Water Mission to Israel (Day 2): Water Management Solutions at Scale

12/18/12Follow @jmatheson

Monday in Israel started out quickly with the Massachusetts Water Delegation taking part in a global water market networking event with the CleanIsrael Meetup Group. CleanIsrael is a pan-Israel cleantech business network with over 1,000 members and is akin to the Clean Economy Network (now part of the Advanced Energy Economy).

After charging up with LOTS of caffeine, the combined group of well over a hundred folks shared ideas, exchanged business cards, and traded elevator pitches. I am starting to think that the Israel school system teaches Israeli kids how to do elevator pitches early in their educational process. On average, they are crisper and more focused on the core value proposition than the average U.S. pitch—this may be due to the fact that Israelis start thinking about how to commercialize outside of Israel very early in their lifecycle. That said, almost all the ideas and pitches tended to be very technical, which is not surprising as many of these ideas come out of the Israeli R&D infrastructure.

The MA delegation shared a set of insights about doing business in the U.S. water market by way of presentations by Pete Tunnicliffe, SVP at CDM Smith, Chris McIntire, President of Xylem Analytics, and Earl Jones of Liberation Capital. The key highlights were around the complexity of the regulatory framework, evidenced by over 45,000 water regulatory agencies in the U.S. Pete, Chris, and Earl collectively represent both a broad range of water experience in the U.S., but also deep expertise in international commercial operations, and the combined crowd had myriad questions around market segmentation, pricing, international operations, and how to sell into the U.S. and global markets.

One benefit of the delegation is that we have a nice representation from MA legislators in State Senator Jamie Eldridge, State Representative Carolyn Dykema, and MA Undersecretary of Energy & Environment Phil Griffiths. We also have state and federal regulators in MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell, and Sally Gutierrez and Curt Spalding from the U.S. EPA. As this group represents a cross-section of the municipal water solution buyers, it has been great to have them on the trip. They each have fully engaged in every activity and discussion, which has allowed the MA delegation to interact with them as a whole each day, but also has enabled our Israeli hosts and colleagues to directly approach them with ideas and solutions. (You can follow the delegation’s activity on Twitter at #MWIM.)

After wrapping up the extended morning networking session, the group boarded three different buses. One for the academics, who headed north to Haifa and Technion (Israeli Institute of Technology), and the other two went to two different Mekerot water treatment facilities. Mekerot is the National Water Carrier of Israel and for 75 years has been tasked with managing the water resources of the country. This is a distinct difference from the fragmented system in the U.S. In Israel, the water belongs to the people, and thus Mekerot is the single, unified agency which produces, manages, and delivers this water on behalf of the Israeli people.

I went to Mekerot’s Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Facility in Rishon LeTzion, 45 minutes south of Tel Aviv. It is a vast tract of land, less than 1 mile inland from the Mediterranean Sea, which treats the sewerage waste of over two million people from Tel Aviv and the other central communities of Israel. There were the expected large pools and flowing tracks of wastewater, but most of the truly intriguing activity was underground. The Shafdan Facility uses natural hydrology and the immense banks of sand and natural flow of the local aquifers to clean 130M cubic meters of biological waste from the sewer system every year. They have had issues with some of the secondary sludge making its way back to the Med so they are working with CDM Smith to install massive anaerobic digesters (see image below), which will turn this waste into 11 MW of energy, more than enough to run the entire facility.

The most impressive thing about this facility is that the clean water that is produced in this multi-stage process is then sent over fifty miles south to the desert region of Negev representing nearly 55 percent of the landmass of Israel. This water has enabled the “greening of the Negev,” creating a fertile crescent of agriculture which is not only feeding Israel but also providing exports to other countries. This water is also available for Gaza, and this has significant geopolitical potential and implications. Israel reuses over 80 percent of its water, far exceeding the second best country in the world, Spain, which reuses only 18 percent.

What do you think this U.S. number is? I will share this in tomorrow’s entry but it’s not a number to be proud of…

The final group went to the central filtration plant in Eshkol (pictured below). This facility is the fourth largest water treatment plant in the world and the first of its kind in Israel. Eshkol was constructed in June 2007 and filters water pumped from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) through the state-of-the-art facility. Eshkol supplies over one-third of Israel’s population with 1.7 million cubic meters of filtered water 24 hours a day. The water is pumped from Kinneret, Israel’s primary source of water, and filtered within an average time of 18 hours, as compared to the 90 minutes at the Hadera facility, which was treating water from only a few hundred meters away in the Med.

The day finished up with an amazing dinner at Vino Socca in Herzliya Pituach, which is the neighborhood near our hotel, near the beach in Tel Aviv. Tom Burton and his Mintz Levin team did a great job of hosting the group and we had a fabulous set of speakers including Dr. Daniel Zajfman, President of the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Weizmann reportedly has the highest royalty revenue of any Tech Transfer Office in the world. President Zajfman attributed this not to hiring the best scientists (although they do), but primarily because they seek out and hire for “curiosity and passion.”

The Israeli Minister of Energy and Water, Dr. Uzi Landau, wrapped up the evening by sharing a captivating set of perspectives, including how he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on the steps of Building 77 at MIT. Minister Landau joked that he was responsible for two resources, energy and water, that Israel has neither of. However, over the past 25 years, through a powerful vision, commitment, and innovation, Israel is now water independent. And despite 7 tough years of drought, Israel is very close to replenishing all of the natural fresh water resources it has depleted over the past many years by returning over 2 billion cubic meters to the aquifers and rivers of Israel. And with the recent find of natural gas off the coast of Israel, energy independence may not be too far away as well.

Minister Landau (left) finished his comments by sharing the hopeful vision of Israel supplying water and energy to its neighbors with an eye towards peace among the various religions and nations in the region. On that note, it has been remarkably calm and normal in Israel considering the fighting that was so intense only a month ago.

Overall, a hugely interesting and informative day that helped bring into focus how Israel has crafted an impressive vision and executed with persistence and excellence to bring their water management solutions to scale and enable water independence. Tomorrow we host the W.E.T. Revolution before heading “up” to Jerusalem.

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  • MichaelS

    Be careful not to ask any sensitive questions. When you say that the water belongs to the people, it is only some people who get the water. Most water is diverted away from the territories under occupation or from Arab villages within Israel. Also, when you talk about Jaffa has changed, note that all the original residents were forcibly removed from their land and homes and the neighborhoods were leveled.

    • Nadav

      nonsense