Abigail Klein Leichman
November 8, 2015

Essential Question: How do we thoughtfully share resources even when doing so might not directly benefit us?

“I’m a man on a mission,” says Seth Siegel, author of the newly released Let There be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press). “My goal is to raise consciousness about the danger of not having a plan to address the coming water crisis. Hundreds of millions of people could find themselves without adequate water in just a few years, and this is not as high a priority as it should be.”

The New York columnist, entrepreneur, branding guru and Broadway producer was surprised to discover the best working model of a water master plan in Israel.

Despite its desert terrain, rapid population growth and meager rainfall, Israel currently boasts a water surplus. It shares water with Jordan and the Palestinian-administered territories in the West Bank and Gaza. It exports water technologies* worth $2.2 billion and growing.

Among Israel’s groundbreaking products and policies are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture.

“With a global water crisis looming, the Israeli inclination toward taking bold steps may be the most important contribution of its water philosophy to an increasingly water-starved world,” Siegel writes.

According to his book, more than 150 countries already have welcomed assistance from the Israeli government, private or nonprofit sectors to address their water problems. Israel provides training in water management and irrigation to its Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors and to more than 100 developing countries, 29 of them in Africa.

“Israel has gotten savvy about water use on just about every level, and it’s a remarkable story,” Siegel tells ISRAEL21c. “I had an ongoing feeling of excitement about telling an unknown story and being inspired at the same time. It was a reaffirmation of why Israel is special.”

Let There Be Water cover image courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books
Let There Be Water cover image courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books

The timing of the book’s release in the United States coincides with increasing alarm over long-term water shortages in 40 states, most notably California and Texas. Siegel maintains that Israel should be an example to every one of these states, “based on its own experiences, its own trial and error, its own failures, and ultimately its own solutions.”

As ISRAEL21c has reported, California already is in close contact with Israeli water experts and agricultural experts, and Israel’s IDE Technologies is building a desalination plant in California that will be the largest in the Western hemisphere, providing 50 million gallons of water per day.

“California did what countries with water problems around the world have been doing for decades: It turned to Israel for partnership and help,” Siegel writes.

Yet California had nothing to do with his decision to write the book three years ago. At that time, few people recognized the coming crisis. His motivator was a seminar he attended as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent nonprofit think tank. There he learned that the US government was projecting a water crisis to hit with accelerating force over the next few decades.

“With a global water crisis looming, the Israeli inclination toward taking bold steps may be the most important contribution of its water philosophy to an increasingly water-starved world.”

Siegel immediately started searching the Internet to find out if any countries had sound water-management policies.

“I saw that Israel had a very sophisticated water system. I was shocked because I go to Israel several times a year and I didn’t know this. I started telling friends about this, and everybody said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Nobody seemed to know that Israel is so smart about water. So I decided this is a story worth telling.”

Water superpower

The readers he hopes to reach fall into several categories: environmental activists, public policymakers, elected officials, concerned citizens and heads of non-governmental organizations. “The chapter on the business of water would be interesting for investors to understand the enormous opportunity,” he adds.

The book is the result of 14 months of research and interviews with more than 220 people responsible for Israel’s success in water management and technology.

What emerges is a clear picture of classic Israeli risk-taking, thinking out of the box, massive investment in research and development, and refusal to accept that anything is impossible.

“Israel is a water superpower,” Siegel writes. “Thanks to decades of planning and sacrifice, everyone in Israel today gets all of the safe water on demand that they want – provided they are prepared to pay for it. The country benefits from wise water laws. It has a large cadre of highly qualified regulators and utility mangers. And due to technological advances introduced by Israeli professors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, Israel’s water security is only growing.”

Author Seth Siegel. Photo by Talia Siegel
Author Seth Siegel. Photo by Talia Siegel

His interviews revealed that despite complicated geopolitics, business relations between Israel and so-called enemy countries are quietly robust.

“If people are wise, water will trump politics,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “People ultimately come to pragmatic conclusions, but the question is how much pain they’ll go through till they get to that pragmatic conclusion.”

Even before Let There be Water hit stores on September 15, Siegel was already deluged with speaking invitations. He’ll be appearing at Google’s weekly author series in California; at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco; at the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington, DC; at churches, synagogues and Jewish community centers across America; and at campuses including Columbia, UC-Berkeley, Harvard and Cornell. He will be the keynote speaker at Jewish National Fund water seminars in 12 US cities.

In his first full-length book, he says, “I tried to share the stories of the people who moved things forward to make it clear that everyone can do what Israel did, and can do it with the benefit of Israel’s experience. There is no time to waste.”

For more information, click here.

*KEY WORDWater technologies – Israel is a leader in water technologies. Check out this article about the work Israel did at the Kishon River or watch this short video, “Israel: The Water Exporters,” about Israel’s water innovations.

Why do you think Israel has been so successful with its water issues? Ask this question to your students. Share their answers with us on Facebook.  

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