Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solu­tion for a Water-Starved World

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

This smart, engag­ing, and extreme­ly feel-good book tells one of the sto­ries that best illus­trates how Israel con­sis­tent­ly turns crises into oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges into victories.

Long before state­hood, the nascent country’s lead­ers and plan­ners had real­ized that pop­u­la­tion and eco­nom­ic growth required an effi­cient and secure infra­struc­ture, and that a depend­able, afford­able water sup­ply was at the heart of it all, neces­si­tat­ing both sci­en­tif­ic and man­age­r­i­al inno­va­tion. Even as Israel grew to be more and more exem­plary of boom­ing pri­vate cap­i­tal­ism, gov­ern­ment monop­oly would be the best way to man­age water.

And so it has proven to be.

The inven­tion of and com­mit­ment to drip irri­ga­tion — a tech­nique that put the water only where it was need­ed, when it was need­ed, and in the pre­cise quan­ti­ty that was need­ed — rev­o­lu­tion­ized agri­cul­ture, first in Israel and lat­er through­out the world. The com­mit­ment to extract­ing fresh water from sea­wa­ter also con­tributed not only to Israel’s water inde­pen­dence, but to the improb­a­ble con­di­tion of water abun­dance as well — sim­i­lar­ly accom­plished by build­ing the capa­bil­i­ty of turn­ing sewage into a major com­po­nent of an unpar­al­leled nation­al water sys­tem. And devel­op­ing a water-sen­si­tive cul­ture proved every bit as impor­tant as the tech­nolo­gies imple­ment­ed. (The gov­ern­ment of Israel effec­tive­ly encour­ages cit­i­zens not to waste a drop — and to make sure there are no leaks in their dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems — by charg­ing users at least the actu­al cost for water.)

Seth M. Siegel explores how Israel’s neigh­bors treat their water suf­fi­cien­cy, not­ing that the sit­u­a­tion is dis­as­trous and with­out improve­ment yet. He sees Israel’s lead­er­ship in this field as a pos­si­ble way of engag­ing the coun­tries sur­round­ing it in rela­tion­ships of mutu­al ben­e­fit that might lead to peace. He also sur­veys water con­di­tions world­wide, detail­ing Israel’s lead­er­ship across the globe. Water con­ser­va­tion know-how, sys­tems man­age­ment, and tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion have cre­at­ed a major and lucra­tive Israeli indus­try internationally.

Siegel’s acces­si­ble han­dling of tech­no­log­i­cal issues, his focus on key indi­vid­u­als inside and out­side of gov­ern­ment, and his bound­less enthu­si­asm for Israel’s accom­plish­ments and inter­na­tion­al lead­er­ship make Let There Be Water a high­ly appeal­ing read.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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