As a water treatment company based in Southern California, Rayne Water Systems caters to a very diverse clientele, and we learned quickly that no matter where you’re from, access to water matters. But the thing about geography is that some countries are not as water-wealthy as others, which means water conservation becomes very important when it comes to ensuring national stability. That said, Australia and Israel, in particular, have shown that sound water conservation tactics and cutting-edge technology put them ahead of the pack when it comes to only using what is necessary.
The “Land Down Under” could more properly be termed the “Dry Land Down Under,” since as a populated continent, Australia is the driest one on the planet. This reality hit the country hard when it had to deal with its historic “Big Dry” a period of record low rainfall levels that lasted 12 years, from 1997 to 2009. But according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, instead of panicking about drought, Australian water authorities tackled the water supply at all levels.
For instance, the country spent $11 billion over the course of their drought on water desalination plants (which use specialized reverse osmosis membranes to remove dissolved salts from seawater to make it safe for humans to drink). Today, the city of Perth, in Western Australia, still uses desalination to provide nearly half of the city’s water. For a city about half the size of Los Angeles, that’s an impressive statistic.
However, Australia didn’t rest at simply replacing lost rainfall by going to the ocean, they also looked at the water they did have and devised ways to maximize its productivity. Measures like greywater reuse (greywater being water that has been used for things like dishwashing or washing clothes, but is not yet so dirty that it’s not safe to use again before being considered wastewater) and reclamation (or recycling) of wastewater.
Australia’s most important effort, though, was to to actually change the behaviors of citizens when it came to water use. Water utilities, especially, were successful at convincing average Australians to reduce water use, enabling what little water was available to go further. Compared to the average Angeleño, a resident of Melbourne, capital of the Australian state of Victoria, uses only a quarter of the water of his L.A. counterpart. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that this pattern of water conservation is sticking: 6 years after the generally accepted end of Australia’s drought, water conservation habits are holding on strong. California could do worse than looking to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere for the right way to approach long-term water conservation.
The winter of 2013-14 was the driest for the tiny, sun-baked Middle Eastern nation in decades. But, paradoxically, it didn’t face a water shortage during that period. This is because Israel has been at the forefront of water management at all levels, from desalination, recycling, and advanced irrigation technology for agriculture.
Water security is something Israel has long been conscious about, considering the political tensions in the region and multiplied by its location in a desert environment. According to OECD Observer, Israel’s list of water innovations is long and impressive. They include:
- a national aqueduct, started in 1955 and taking almost a decade to build, which moves water from natural sources in the north of the country to the thirsty south
- treatment and recycling of nearly all of the country’s domestic wastewater, used for irrigation by the agricultural industry
- highly advanced drip irrigation technology, which was able to nearly double the harvest in Israel’s Negev Desert region, while using the same amount of water before its implementation
- use of new crop varieties that provide 10x higher yield while using the same amount of water
- deep well-drilling technology that enable access to water sources as deep as nearly one mile
- widespread desalination of both ocean water and salty groundwater
- technology for preventing evaporative water loss incurred while water is being stored for use.
When it comes to all levels of water management Israel has a lot to be proud of. After all, they’ve essentially created an oasis in the desert simply by innovating. With their impressive reputation, they’ve taken their methods and technology to the world, and California, in particular, is listening.
In early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to export Israeli technologies to the Golden State to help alleviate the impact of its historic drought. Desalination in particular is being adopted by California as an future solution for the water crisis. In 2016, San Diego County will be opening its Poseidon water desalination plant in Carlsbad, which will use advanced Israeli reverse osmosis membrane technology (provided by IDE Technologies) to provide an estimated 50 million gallons of water for San Diego county (around 7-10 percent of the local utility’s needs). The plant is pricey, at around $1 billion, but the hope is that the price of the project will be justified as other sources of water get more and more scarce.
Water is something we all need simply to live, and questions around its availability and safety are some of the most important ones to be addressed, but Australia and Israel have shown that by planning, innovating, and instilling better habits in their populations, there will be enough water not only to live, but to thrive.