JNF Water Summit Starts with a Splash

by Natalie Jacobs December 9, 2015


jnf water summit

The local chapter of the Jewish National Fund is currently underway with an ambitious project – their Water Summit has set out to highlight Israel’s water innovations in hopes that our drought-ridden west can learn a thing or two from that example. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the summit started with a frank discussion between author Seth M. Siegel, whose New York Times Bestselling nonfiction book “Let There Be Water” chronicles Israel’s water successes (and failures); and Mark Lambert, CEO of IDE Americas, the Israeli company spearheading the design and development of the Carlsbad desalination plant. The discussion was moderated by Toby Roy, regulation manager for the San Diego County Water Authority, the regulating body made up of 28 member water boards from throughout the county.

Lambert offered the decidedly optimistic viewpoint for the evening, opening with the point that San Diego is experiencing an “innovation explosion” that is helping us to “do better with what we have.”

He and Roy, with Siegel nodding vigorously between them, underscored the point that San Diego County has one of the most progressive and forward-thinking water boards in the country, thanks in part to a plan the group committed to a decade ago, whereby they would work toward creating a “balanced water portfolio,” something Lambert mentioned when I interviewed him about the desalination plant last year. With that, desalination is only one part of the plan, the city is also working to expand recycled waste-water programs (Israel recycles 85 percent of its sewage, Siegel notes).

Siegel often took the more doom-and-gloom approach to explaining the United States’ water problems (it’s true that not only the west is worried about this). He noted growing world populations along with increased affluence will shift the issue from one of inconvenience to one of serious problem in the next couple decades. Siegel notes that a country like Iran may have to migrate some 35 million people out of areas that don’t have proper access to water because they “spent the last 20 years building a nuclear bomb instead of figuring out how to get water for their people.”

Archaic agriculture practices are to blame for much of the issues, Lambert and Siegel agree on. But Lambert is quick to note that it’s not the farmers’ faults. Siegel agrees.

“There’re just responding to the incentives they’re given.”

But those incentives need to change.

“There’s not enough rainfall anywhere to support the amount of corn we grow,” Siegel says. So we drill and pump aquifers to support the flood procedures that farmers use to water their crops.

All three speakers also agreed that water should be priced to reflect its true costs along with its true value. This is something that Israel did, and their usage rates have gone down dramatically. When water is seen as free, it is used irresponsibly.

At the end of the discussion, an audience member brought up the point that San Diego’s quest to attain water independence has come against political opposition. The concern is that California Governor Jerry Brown’s requirement that every city in the state cut water usage by 25 percent effectively “steals our investment” in the desalination plant because San Diego is not credited with having created access to a new, sustainable source of potable water. Toby Roy from the San Diego County Water Authority agreed that the political situation has sent an unfortunate message to other counties that would consider the billions-of-dollars investment in similar water technologies but now may think twice because the return on that investment will be severely undercut. Her solution was to remain vigilant on elected officials. Siegel agreed.

“They don’t think about water. They should.”

He notes that from the moment Israel reached crisis point and decided to reinvent its water resources to today, took at a minimum of 10 years. You gotta want it.

Seth M. Siegel will continue to tour with the Jewish National Fund to various venues around San Diego. Tonight, Dec. 9 you can catch him at Temple Adat Shalom. Many of the topics he discussed are elaborated in his book, which can be purchased on Amazon.

Mark Lambert and IDE Technologies, along with Poseidon Water and others will host a dedication ceremony for the Carlsbad desalination plant on Monday, Dec. 14.


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