Water Crisis in California – Surviving the Drought | NBC

Milken Fellows

Up until recently, California dealt with a severe drought that resulted in a serious water crisis. According to scientists in NASA, in 2014 California needed more than 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from the drought. One of the reasons for California’s difficulties is its reliance on rainwater and on the Sierra Nevada snowpack. The state hasn’t sufficiently utilized solutions such as: water recycling and desalination, both of which can reduce dependence on rainwater and snowpack. To deal with this ongoing crisis, representatives from California flew to Israel to learn how Israel dealt with a water shortage several years ago. Israel managed to successfully overcome its shortage, and in fact, Israel did so well that these days it can export water to other neighboring countries. If we were to compare Israel and California’s water situation, a fast growing gap becomes evident. Israel recycles over 80% of its water, while California recycles less than 10%. In Israel 60% of drinking water comes from desalination, while in California it’s only about 1%. In addition, more than 70% of crops in Israel are being watered by drip irrigation systems, while in California this number stands at only 40%. It is important to note that Israel succeeded not only by water recycling but also by a more efficient use of its water.

Since the sector that consumes the most water in Israel and California is agriculture, there must be great understanding of the characteristics of the different crops (e.g. type of crop and its sensitivity to drought stress, stage of crop development, etc.). This means that going to a drip irrigation system is not enough, as knowledge of when and where to use these systems is crucial. By having a more efficient use of water, we would like to get to a point where we use less water over a greater number of crops. However, technology is not the sole solution. Politics in California play an important role. In California there are 412 districts of water and there is a system of water rights from the 19th century. These political policies do not make finding a solution any easier. In fact, they make it hard to adopt new technology and to encourage innovation within the water sector.

After watching the film and hearing the discussion about the water crisis in California, it was interesting to see that different people view the same problem in different ways. Even though all the participants were experts in water, their opinions varied. There are many different factors that have an effect on the water problem in California. Therefore, it is possible to look at the same problem from different angles. One topic that was unanimously agreed upon was the great success of Israel in the water domain. In my opinion, it is quite incredible how a small country such Israel can set an example to the 6th largest economy in the world, and the capital of innovation. The success of Israel demonstrates that one can succeed and have an influence on others without being the strongest player in the field.

This success story of Israel in the water sector made me wonder how could we possibly make improvements in a field that is in my scope of practice, solar energy. In the solar energy domain Israel is actually far behind California. The number of sunny days and the radiation rate of the sun are very similar in Israel and California, therefore, differences between the use of solar energy has nothing to do with different weather conditions. I am certain that differences between the countries come from differences in policy. When Israel was hit by a drought, lawmakers announced a national crisis. This meant that the issue was taken with serious consideration, and thus resolved successfully. However, up until recent years there was no national interest in solar energy, thus progress has been minimal. I believe that just like the way California is learning from Israel about water, Israel can learn from California about solar energy. In this context, I am happy and proud to be part of Milken Innovation Center that drives the partnership in many different areas between California and Israel.

Alexander Kleiner
A 2016-2017 fellow, Kleiner interns at the Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources, where he promotes the implementation and integration of renewable energy sources. While pursuing his graduate degree, Kleiner worked as a Research Assistant and as a Teaching...
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