rows of crops
Drip irrigation, a water-saving method for watering crops, was invented in Israel. (Photo/Wikimedia-Boris Shin CC BY-SA 4.0)

Israel and UC deepen water technology collaboration

A scientist researching drip irrigation in Beersheva and an agriculturalist in Berkeley studying rainfall patterns can now swap ideas and discoveries, with the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between parties in Israel and California.

According to a press release, the memorandum will “promote cooperation and joint research in various agricultural fields and is designed to increase communication and collaboration between scientists and researchers on both sides.”

S.F.-based Consul General of Israel Shlomi Kofman attended the MOU signing ceremony on July 16, held during a three-day workshop, “The Future of Water for Irrigation in California and Israel.” The document was signed by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Davis and the Agricultural Research Organization of Israel.

“This is bringing the best of the best together,” Kofman said. “We are trying to make the usage of water as efficient as possible.”

From its founding, Israel has made immense progress in water technology research, including desalination, which transforms seawater into potable water; drip irrigation, which decreases the amount of water needed for farming; and recycling wastewater into water suitable for irrigation. Israel is now a water-surplus state, exporting water to neighboring countries.

Ermias Kebreab (left), vice provost for global affairs at UC Davis; Eli Feinerman, professor of agriculture at Hebrew University; and Mark Bell, vice provost of strategic initiatives at UC Davis, at the July 16 signing of the MOU between Israel and UC
Ermias Kebreab (left), vice provost for global affairs at UC Davis; Eli Feinerman, professor of agriculture at Hebrew University; and Mark Bell, vice provost of strategic initiatives at UC Davis, at the July 16 signing of the MOU between Israel and UC

Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources, helped put the MOU together. He said California and Israel already work together frequently on water research, but formalizing the relationship could give the two parties more leverage when applying for grants and funding.

And Parker says they are not the only potential beneficiaries of the research.

“We are looking at ways for this innovation to be used in other parts of the world,” he said. “We can adapt it to other parts of the world that have less technology and capital investment infrastructure. We are looking to use this stuff in developing countries, and hopefully some of our work is transferred to other parts of the world.”

The agreement also further advances Israel’s newfound hydro-diplomacy, helping water-poor countries that might otherwise have nothing to do with the Jewish state.

With the ink still drying on the MOU, no projects have been announced yet. Parker said potential projects under consideration include one related to improving soil. As plants use water, small amounts of salt are left behind on the soil, decreasing its productivity. But Israel and California are researching ways to work around the salt. Using alternative water sources, including recycled wastewater, is an area where California can learn from Israel. Israel leads the world in reuse of wastewater for irrigation.

Shmuel Assouline, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, expressed enthusiasm about the MOU in an email to J.

“This will not change the area of research but strengthen it,” he wrote. “It will increase the scientific level due to joint research proposals, and improve the solutions to water issues affecting both states, especially with regards to increasing the available water resources, improve water use efficiency in irrigation, and address water quality issues and the use of marginal waters (treated waste water and desalinated water) for irrigation.”

Despite Israel’s advanced pace, Kofman believes the two states still can learn from one another. “We are always happy to learn. We want to contribute on our end. Every drop counts,” he said.

“Israel has a great relationship with California,” Kofman added. “When I travel and meet people here, I am warmly received. I think all research is invested in making the world a better place and contributing to our region and beyond. This MOU is another expression of the great relationship we have with California, and the support of the Jewish community here.”

Hannah Jannol
Hannah Jannol

Hannah Jannol is J.'s summer 2018 intern.