Israeli water tech reaching America’s biggest states

From desalination to security, made-in-Israel technology is making its mark in communities around the US

Illustrative photo of an Israeli desalination plant. (Ben Sales/JTA)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli desalination plant. (Ben Sales/JTA)

While the major snowstorms in parts of the US and Europe this winter have gotten a lot of the headlines, a much bigger story is the ongoing drought in many parts of the world, including parts of the United States, Asia, Australia, and elsewhere. In California, for example, authorities have imposed emergency measures to deal with what some scientists have called the country’s worst drought in 500 years.

On his visit to California last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement with California Governor Jerry Brown to, among other things, export Israeli water technology to California to help the state better cope with drought. “Through this agreement, California and Israel will build on their respective strengths in research and technology to confront critical problems we both face, such as water scarcity, cybersecurity and climate change,” said Brown. Of the seven areas the agreement specifies for cooperation, water conservation and management is listed first.

What does Israel know about water technology that could now help California? For one, it’s not facing a water shortage, as a little-noticed news release by Israel’s Water Authority revealed several weeks ago – despite the driest winter in decades. With winter almost over and no substantial precipitation falling since December’s snowstorm, Israelis should by rights be facing a major water crisis. But thanks to good planning of the water economy – including use of desalinated and recycled water – the country’s natural water stores, such as Lake Kinneret are, if not full, at least in good enough shape to last until next winter without falling to dangerously low levels.

And California won’t be the first location in the US to use Israeli water technology to help with the ravages of drought, or to prevent water waste. Ohio, for example, has long used Israeli water tech to save water and prevent waste. In 2012, the City of Akron signed a deal with Mei Netanya, the water distribution company in the city and its surroundings, for the development of joint projects. A number of Israeli water technology companies have set up operations in an incubator run by the city. Among the Israeli companies working with Akron is Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, which in 2012 signed a deal with the city bring the company’s water monitoring and conservation methods to Akron.


One of the Israeli companies working in Akron is Innovative Communications Solutions (ICS), which is developing a water security system for the city, in conjunction with another Israeli firm, Whitewater Security. The two Israeli companies have already developed a similar solution for Jerusalem’s water system, using cameras and sensors to ensure that unauthorized personnel do not approach reservoirs, and that the water is safe to drink.

Massachusetts is another major “customer” for Israeli water technology. Massachusetts is home to hundreds of water technology companies, one of the leading states in the U.S. when it comes to developing innovative water tech. And Israel is, said Massachusetts governor Duvall Patrick, the world’s top location for water tech start-ups, with innovative technology in fields such as water reuse, wastewater treatment, desalination, energy efficiency, and drip irrigation.

The state recently held a major contest for innovative water technology, which pitted 32 of Israel’s top water tech companies against each other for a slew of prizes, including a free trip to Massachusetts and meetings with top industry officials. The winner was TACount, which has developed a technology that detects and counts microorganisms in food and water in minutes, instead of the days that are usually required for scientists to test for bacteria using the usual methods.

The system, based on identifying a specific cellular activity in bacteria that had not previously been known, can also be used to detect bacteria in electronics, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. By detecting a microbial infection in minutes instead of days, the company says, it significantly reduces the response time to such an event, and can prevent incidents of mass poisoning from bad food or water.

The agreement signed by Netanyahu and Brown will expand cooperation on water technology that already began several years ago. In San Diego, Israel Desalination Enterprises (IDE) is building the largest desalination plant ever to be built in the United States – indeed, in the Western Hemisphere. When it is completed in 2016, the plant will produce up to 54 million gallons of fresh water per day.

The plant, which will cost nearly $1 billion, will be located near the Encina Power Station in Carlsbad, California. The company has also signed a contract directly with Poseidon Resources for Operation & Maintenance (O&M) of the plant for a period of 30 years. The treated water will be delivered into San Diego County’s water system. The project will create 2,300 jobs during construction and will support more than 575 jobs for the life of its operations. The money for the project was raised by Poseidon and the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA).

Last June, Illinois became the latest state to draw up a water technology cooperation agreement with Israel, when Ben Gurion University and the University of Chicago signed a water research agreement. According to Eilon Adar of BGU, Chicago has come to realize that “in spite of the fact that they have plenty of water, the quality of water has been deteriorating very fast.” The project, he said, would examine and develop solutions for “everything associated with improving water quality. It could target surface water, below surface water, ground water, streams, ponds, rivers, lakes.”

Netanyahu said in California last week that his country had a lot to offer that state, or any other US state in need of improving its water economy. “Israel has no water problems because we are the number one recyclers of waste water, we stop water leaks, we use drip irrigation and desalination,” Netanyahu said. Those technologies, the Prime Minister added, meant that neither California nor any other US state needs to have a water problem.

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