Healthy Buildings is fast becoming an industry leader in the field of commercial building water conservation and its water service line is the fastest growing part of the company. At Healthy Buildings, keeping up with the latest advances in green building and resource conservation innovation, not just in the United States but around the world, is key to us being able to bring state-of-the-art solutions to our clients.
Consistent with that objective I had the privilege to recently participate in a weeklong tour of Israel’s key water facilities entitled, “IsraelH2O: A Tour of the Trail of Israel’s Water Solutions.” This expedition included a diverse array of participants hailing from academia, the water conservation industry, and government including the United Nations and several representatives of the government of Thailand. Some of the country’s water facilities toured included filtration, desalination, and wastewater plants, rainwater harvesting systems, hi-tech irrigation applications, and desert reclamation projects.
Israel is undisputedly the world leader in water conservation. Situated at the edge of a desert with little rainfall, few natural water resources, and a fast-growing population, Israel not just ten years ago was on the verge of a disastrous water deficit which threatened to destroy her economy and cause mass social unrest. The government, in partnership with the private sector, planned a carefully orchestrated multi-front action plan which today has resulted in Israel having fully satisfied its domestic water needs to the extent that it is a net water exporter. Here are just a few of the incredible water achievements Israel has realized over the last ten years:
- Over 55% of Israel’s drinking water is obtained from large and small desalination plants around the country, including the largest in the world, the Sorek desalination plant. While desalinated water is typically expensive, thanks to Israeli innovations in this area it is competitive compared to current traditional surface and aquifer water sources (see below about market based pricing) and far cheaper than desalinated water in other parts of the world.
- Approximately 85% of Israel’s wastewater is recycled for agricultural use. Another 10% is used to increase river flow and fight forest fires and only 5% is released into the sea. The country that recycles the second most wastewater in the world, Spain, reuses only 25%.
- Israel’s percentage of water lost to pipeline leakage is about 9%, as compared to 18% in the U.S., 25% in Europe, and 50% in some parts of the middle east. This is accomplished using highly sophisticated sensors and computer technology that doesn’t require tearing up whole streets to replace pipes.
- Israel is a world leader in agricultural production efficiency and organic farming thanks to the extensive use of drip irrigation, a technology invented in Israel and introduced to the world. Drip irrigation saves 25%-75% of pumped water compared to flood irrigation, yields 15% more crops, and reduces the need to use fertilizer and sometimes pesticides
The whole mindset towards water conservation is radically different in Israel than in, say, the U.S. While in the U.S. we teach our children songs with lyrics like, “rain, rain, go away………,” in Israel the children sing nursery rhymes that practically beg the heavens to deliver as much rain as possible. Public outreach programs urge children to alert their parents when they see them engaging in water wasting behavior like leaving the faucet running while brushing one’s teeth. But perhaps the biggest action taken by Israeli society that has resulted in their water miracle was declaring all water in the country to be owned by the government (i.e., the people) resulting in water being accurately priced as the precious commodity that it is according to the market laws of supply and demand. Contrast that, for example, with the cost of water in Los Angeles, who’s price is among the lowest in the country despite the (now subsiding) drought because their water pricing is accomplished through public voting and influenced by interest groups.
Israel is dedicated to sharing its water conservation expertise to help an ever-increasingly thirsty world, and currently collaborates with many foreign governments in this area. I am proud to have represented Healthy Buildings in experiencing this expertise firsthand in our never-ending effort to provide our clients with the most innovative solutions to their environmental challenges and help make their buildings more valuable.