The Israeli government’s top water technology export official visited drought-dried Georgia Jan. 29 to offer solutions he said would appeal to people looking to green both the environment and their wallets.
Israel’s growing water technology sector marries the interests of conservationists and commercialists by offering business-friendly methods of optimizing water use, arguably the world’s most important environmental issue, Oded Distel, director of Israel Novel Efficient Water Technologies, or NEWTech, told GlobalAtlanta.
“Some years ago, all issues of water and environment were somewhat related to those ‘green’ people, and the businesspeople were left out of it,” said Mr. Distel. “What is happening in the last several years is that … people realize it is a very solid business opportunity and there is good cooperation between the environmentalist people and the businesspeople.”
Mr. Distel was hosted by the Atlanta-based American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast Region, which arranged a tight schedule of meetings for him with a variety of organizations influential in the city’s water planning.
Since 2005, Israel has launched an international blitz to promote its competitive advantage in water technology. With the $40 million the government uses to fund Israel NEWTech, Mr. Distel is charged with doubling the country’s water-related exports to $2 billion by 2010.
During late October in Tel Aviv, Israel NEWTech hosted the WATEC Israel 2007 conference, where government officials and industry professionals from more than 80 countries came to check out Israeli innovations in the field.
Tom Glaser, president of the American Israel Chamber, led a trade delegation to Israel around that same time. He and Gene Rubel, chair of the chamber’s clean technology committee, attended the conference and held meetings that paved the way for Mr. Distel’s late-January visit.
Mr. Distel said Israel NEWTech is currently working with municipalities in China, Mexico, Spain, and the U.S. to look at the efficiency of water systems in large cities.
In Atlanta, Mr. Distel said 19 percent of treated water is lost through leaking pipes on its way to homes and businesses. That ratio, high as it may seem, is actually much lower than in other parts of the world, where 60 percent of treated water supplies can be lost because of gaps in the aging pipe systems, he said.
“Now it’s crazy because that’s water you’ve already invested so much in energy, infrastructure and money and labor and everything. It’s almost in the house and then it’s running out,” Mr. Distel said.
Although he hasn’t studied Georgia’s drought and wouldn’t make policy recommendations, Mr. Distel did say that Georgia is a prime spot to look for partners for small- and medium-sized Israeli companies looking to export their technology.
That’s partly because Georgia, now mired in a drought, is learning the hard truth about the necessity of an efficient water management plan.
Both houses of the Georgia General Assembly recently passed a little-contested statewide water plan recommended by the Georgia Water Council. The plan will split the state into 11 districts and call for $36 million over the next three years to evaluate the state’s current water supply and decide how much will be needed for future growth.
On Feb. 6, the Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the plan into law, but he said in a statement that the state will continue requiring a 10 percent reduction in water consumption in a 61-county Level Four Drought Response Area.
This newfound emphasis on water, coupled with an Israeli-friendly business environment that has already attracted more than 40 Israeli companies from other sectors, makes Atlanta a desirable spot for Israeli water technology companies, Mr. Glaser said.
“We’re in discussions right now with at least three other companies that are actively considering locating in the area,” he added.
While Georgia is just waking up to the pesky inconveniences a drought can cause, Israel has lived with them as an everyday reality since it gained statehood nearly 60 years ago.
“Even when it was not an issue worldwide, in Israel it was an issue,” Mr. Distel said.
Situated in one of the most arid regions in the world, the small Middle Eastern nation centralized its entire water system in 2006, but has been moving toward a holistic approach for about a century.
The combined effect over the years has been a raised level of consciousness about water use. In Israel, people use buckets rather than hoses to wash their cars, and they don’t water their gardens during the day for fear of evaporation, Mr. Distel said.
The level of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s natural reservoir, is a regular feature in news reports and conversations.
“The Sea of Galilee is their Lake Lanier,” Mr. Rubel said, referring to the reservoir that has become the go-to gauge to measure Atlanta’s water supply.
Because both are industrialized societies, there isn’t much of a difference in daily per capita water use between the U.S. and Israel, but there is a disparity in the efficiency of the systems as a whole.
Seventy-five percent of Israel’s sewage water is re-treated and used for agriculture, and Israel “creates” about a quarter of its national water supply through desalination. The Israeli city of Ashkelon is home to the largest such plant in the world, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Israeli companies have cornered half the world market in drip irrigation, a technique developed in Israel 40 years ago in which hoses deliver water to specific parts of the plant, minimizing waste and producing a better yield for the water spent.
The majority of Israel’s water-related exports are in this field, and Mr. Distel said such systems would be a good addition to Georgia’s water portfolio, especially as much as the state depends on agriculture.
Mr. Rubel, who also runs Interlink Technologies Inc., a small consulting company, said that duel-flush toilets and solar-powered water heaters help Israelis cut their personal consumption.
In two days, Mr. Distel met with representatives from the Atlanta Regional Commission, Coca-Cola Co., the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority and the Georgia Institute of Technology, among other organizations and individuals.