Drought conditions are poised to strike again with terrible, tumbleweed littered vengeance now that El Niño season coming to a close.
Mustangs United for Israel (MUFI), a coalition of pro-Israel organizations at Cal Poly, hosted a talk Wednesday night to address the issue and inspire innovative approaches to upgrading water technology.
The Imminent Water Crisis & Israel’s Solution brought 400 audience members, including Cal Poly administration and faculty, San Luis Obispo city and county officials, student government and campus organization presidents together to listen to speaker Seth Siegel.
Business administration sophomore Tal Edelstein, who is the president of MUFI, said he believed Israel’s water supply could become a strong example for what others looking to address the crisis.
“We have to understand the situation,” Edelstein said. “I feel like a lot of people — you know, if you look back just a few years ago to the ice bucket challenge — people don’t really understand the situation that we’re in. We’re in a very bad situation.”
Siegel, who is an activist, businessman and author of the national bestseller “Let There Be Water,” explained that population growth — combined with growing global affluence and climate change — is a constant drain on global water resources.
In a presentation by a former U.S. general, Siegel said he learned that 60 percent of landmass could experience severe water issues, which would displace more than 4.5 billion people by 2025 — causing food prices to rise and spurring social instability.
“If water gives out, what will people do?” Siegel said. “We could face a situation where not thousands or millions, but hundreds of millions will have to pick up and move.”
It was an issue that prompted Siegel to look for solutions, which lead him to his key example for fully utilizing water: Israel. The country has seen rapid growth in population and wealth since the 1940’s. And they’ve managed to keep up with, and even exceed, their water demands.
“Israel is not just self-sufficient in water, it’s positively abundant,” he said.
Going back as far as the 1930’s, Zionist leadership came up with three choices that helped improve their water supply: agreeing to never rely on others for defense, building an open immigration system, and never allowing scarcity of water to stymie growth of that immigration, Siegel said.
Because of this, Israel would become a self-reliant force with a booming population and a continuous need to invent water technology to keep up with the growth.
Siegel also suggested there is a strong cultural difference between American and Israeli notions of innovation.
The more American “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” ideology is nowhere to be found. Israeli utilities have an obligation to partner with private companies that come up with new technology.
It’s a process that’s self-regulating. Technology that doesn’t work well gets phased out, and private companies are work to create something better because they know they can get the backing from the utility, according to Siegel.
He also asked the audience to consider that water wasn’t just water. It was a means to make peace. Israel had, in the past, run the water sector of Iran for about 20 years as an offering of goodwill, and had sent hydrologists to China under the same terms.
The move has worked to Israel’s favor in some instances, and not so well in others, but Siegel said he believed offering to help another country should be done for the sake of helping the people, and any peaceful political relations that come from it are more of a bonus.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold — whose district includes the Paso Robles groundwater basin that is currently the subject of debate on whether it should be managed by the state or members of the community — left Siegel’s talk feeling motivated by the ability of other areas to find realistic solutions to water crises.
“It was just — I think inspiring is a good word,” she said. “I’ve always known that it’s really a lot about goals and what we want the future to look like. We have to make that decision and go forward, and hearing (Siegel’s) experience and what’s happened in other parts of the world that have had more serious water-supply issues than we have, and have conquered those issues, it’s really great.”
Siegel’s book, “Let There Be Water, was given away for free to anyone who attended the presentation. The book is comprised of a series of interviews of water engineers and Israeli and American government officials, amongst others.
It’s broken down into three parts, which Siegel explored during his talk: societal will, a breakdown of the mechanics into simple terms and the importance of hydro-diplomacy. But Siegel emphasized that one of its more important qualities is that his book has a positive outlook on what can still be done.
“You finish (other books about environmental issues) and you kind of want to commit suicide,” he said. “Because it’s either die now, or eat your neighbor’s child when things get terrible and die later. But my book is optimistic.”
“This is a growing, global problem, but with this burden on us, we’re at a pivotal moment.”