LBJ school, Jewish National Fund host water summit

Selah Maya Zighelboim

The world is falling into a water crisis, but the technological advances to manage it already exist, author and activist Seth Siegel said on Wednesday afternoon at the Austin Water Summit.

At a summit hosted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the Jewish National Fund, Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved Word,” said the United States can learn from Israel’s water conservation efforts.

“When you can pull everyone together to think and move in a common direction, it’s truly quite remarkable what kinds of transformation of that society you can affect,” Siegel said.

According to Siegel, 60 percent of the world’s land mass will have severe water problems in fewer than 10 years. In addition, 40 of the 50 U.S. states will also suffer from water shortages within the same time frame, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Siegel said causes of water problems include climate change, growing population and urbanization.

Despite having many of these factors in addition to a desert climate, Israel does not have large problems with water accessibility because the country has chosen to make water an existential priority, according to Siegel. This has resulted in government ownership of water, as well as technological innovations to conserve water, such as desalinization, drip irrigation, sewage treatment and genetic modification of seeds to grow in brackish water.

“The world is divided into two types of people — people who think water comes from a faucet, and those who walk with a bucket in their hands, looking skyward, wondering when the next rainfall will come,” Siegel said.

Joseph Paritzky, former minister of infrastructure and energy in Israel, said the prioritization of water conservation will require a cultural shift in the United States to start thinking of water as a precious resource. He said he once suggested to former Gov. Rick Perry that Texas should offer free artificial lawns to conserve on water.

“He told me it was a great idea, but it wasn’t going to work because we need to change the mind of the public,” Paritzky said. “It’s an issue of culture, and it takes time to change culture.”

Graeme Campbell, history and Jewish studies sophomore who attended the summit, said he thinks it’s important for the U.S. to learn from Israel conservation efforts.

“I think that conservation and what they talked about in terms of changing the culture [is important] because I think we have a culture of excess,” Campbell said. “We should think about watering our lawns, better use and managing what we have.”