Israel gets the majority of its water through desalination. Above, a view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israel gets the majority of its water through desalination. Above, a view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israel gets the majority of its water through desalination. Above, a view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Israeli city of Ashkelon. (Photo: Saikom / Shutterstock)

Author makes splash with bestseller about water crisis

Seth Siegel shares three water innovations that are changing the world.

Seth Siegel used to work with Scooby-Doo. And now he's touring the country promoting his first book, an instant bestseller, called "Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World." The story of how a former brand consultant for Hanna-Barbera cartoons became an expert in the intricacies of Mediterranean water management is itself worthy of a book.

But in the meantime, Siegel is getting used to his new life as an author-in-demand. He's currently on a book tour the likes of which would make Stephen King or John Grisham blush. The 62-year-old author has received 450 different invitations to speak.

We caught up with Siegel on a recent Wednesday morning. He was in Louisiana and had spoken at Tulane University the night before. After our call, he would give a talk to a packed crowd in Baton Rouge. Then he was off to New York, California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Rhode Island and Kentucky.

Author Seth Siegel (center) appears with Tulane students after his recent talk.Author Seth Siegel (center) appears with Tulane students after his recent talk. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Not too long ago, Google invited him to its headquarters to speak to its employees. So is it any surprise his book has catapulted to both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists? It's now in its second printing, and international editions are flowing in.

"I did not expect to get an agent or a publisher. I did not expect it to become a bestseller. I did not expect it to have this kind of reaction," he told From The Grapevine. "But it's all the more satisfying that all this has happened."

Siegel shifted the conversation to more important matters than Amazon book rankings. As an activist and concerned citizen, the looming water crisis in the world worried him. "There's lots of water out there, but it's not limitless," he said. He spent four years doing research, and what he found out surprised him. "Lo and behold, I discovered that Israel has the world's most sophisticated water system. It's a really inspiring story."

Through the course of 250 pages, Siegel weaves the narrative of how a group of offbeat inventors and radical thinkers – including an opera singer who became a sewage expert – created some of the world's most defining and lasting water technologies. These innovations, developed in a country known for its startup culture, are now commonplace all across the globe. In places like California and Nevada in the parched American West, they are allowing clean, drinkable water to flow in the face of a historic drought.

Below, Siegel highlights three areas where water innovations created in Israel are helping the world.

Desalination

In times of drought and water shortages, we often look to the ocean and wonder: What if we could turn seawater into drinkable water? Tapping that unlimited resource is now possible. Through a process called desalination, minerals and salt are stripped from seawater. The end product? Potable water. The idea for desalination came from Israel, where today nearly half of all the water used in the country comes from the ocean.

San Diego recently opened the new $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination plant. Built by Israel-based IDE Technologies, it will be the largest desalination project in the entire Western Hemisphere. It will provide clean drinking water for more than 400,000 households in California.


Drip irrigation

But drinking water is just the tip of the iceberg. "Water is used more for agriculture than for anything else," Siegel told us. Most farmers around the world use a technique called flood irrigation to water their crops. With this process, used since the dawn of civilization, fields and orchards are inundated with water. The problem? With flood irrigation, more than 50% of the water is wasted. Picture a typical lawn sprinkler, splashing water all over the place, often blowing to the sidewalk or far from its intended target.

Imagine if you could irrigate a plant drop by drop and use just what's needed. Enter drip irrigation. The efficient technology was developed in Israel decades ago, and is now being used on farms around the globe. On average, drip irrigation saves about 50 percent of the water that was normally used. But the water savings are only one benefit. The yield from crops watered with drip irrigation is actually higher. "With no additional acreage to be planted, the enhanced harvest was akin to getting free crops with extra water used," Siegel writes in the book.


Low-flush toilets

While we often think about drinking water and water used for farming, it's important to also keep in mind water used in restrooms. In America, older toilets use about six gallons per flush. Newer, more modern ones use 1.8 gallons. Dual-flush toilets, which offer variable flush volumes, were developed in Israel and reduce the typical flush to under a gallon. "Almost immediately they understood the incredible water-saving opportunity this presented," Siegel said. "Dual-flush toilets save very large amounts of water in very quiet ways."

But the story doesn't end there. In Israel, 85% of the wastewater is recycled. Sewage pipes are directed to treatment facilities where high-tech microorganisms digest the organic material and purify the water.

The water goes through multiple levels of cleaning and is brought back up to be used for irrigation, showers and even potable water. An added benefit? Today, Israel's rivers are cleaner, and pollution of the Mediterranean Sea has been significantly reduced. Explained Siegel: "Around the world, the rapidly growing number of water-stressed communities can learn from Israel's example."

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