Common Concerns of Arizona, Israel and Palestinian Territories Prompt Cooperative Efforts
What conditions, interests and concerns, related specifically to water resources, do Arizona, Israel and the Palestinian Territories have in common? What issues defined and directed discussions during the recent Arizona, Israeli, and Palestinian Water Management and Policy Workshop (AzIP)? In other words, what factors made it likely that a cooperative effort among the regions would bear fruit?
The obvious commonality is that all are arid and semi-arid regions. Water scarcity threatens the well-being of regions and nations and provides a powerful incentive for officials to consult with others from water scarce areas to share political, technological and scientific information.
Robert Varady, research professor at the University of Arizona's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, provides more specific information about Arizona, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. He said, “The areas are somewhat similar topographically, hydrographically, climate wise and so on. They have similar size populations and most important they face a lot of the same challenges because there is not enough water for a growing population.”
Christopher Scott, assistant research professor at the UA Udall Center and professor in the School of Geography and Development, elaborated on the regions' population issues and the need for water. He mentioned the degree to which Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Arizona are rapidly urbanizing. He said, “It is not just aggregate demand but it is new demand for water coming from the urban sector real estate, urban growth, new subdivisions, population growth and expansion,” Scott said.
Scott said each region faces the issue of reallocating water resources from an agricultural sector that had previsously gotten the lion's share in order to meet increasing urban and environmental needs. He asked "Are we going to do a good job leaving water in river systems and wetlands and riparian areas?”
Also, Scott provides an example with hydrographic and political significance. He finds similarities in the way the three regions are concerned with transjurisdictional boundaries when sharing a river: Arizona shares the Colorado River with other U.S. states and Mexico, while Israel and the Palestinian Territories share the Jordan River with other countries. Arizona's water supply is highly dependent upon flows from other Colorado River Basin states, and it has downstream obligations to California and Mexico, as well as to instream ecosystem water needs. Similarly, Israel and the Palestinian Territories rely on the Jordan River that is shared with Jordan with important contributions from Syria and parts of Lebanon. Downstream concerns include the environmental condition of the Dead Sea and instream uses of the Jordan River.
Scott said, “There is a clear analogy between the Colorado River and the Jordan River. ... These are both extremely water scarce basins in which there is a rush to develop water resources.”
He added, "The way the Colorado River Basin has been managed with all kinds of challenges and some success and some failures has provided us with a degree of accumulated experiences in managing transjurisdictional river basins.”
In coping with water resource challenges, the three regions have relied on different strategies depending upon circumstances and priorities. Information and expertise from one or two of the regions can be shared to benefit all. Using reclaimed water is an example. Scott said, “In using reclaimed water, I think that the Israelis and the Palestinians are doing a lot better and using more creativity [than Arizona]. They are one step ahead of us.”
Along this line, at the AzIP workshop Alon Tal, associate professor in the Department of Desert Ecology at Ven Gurion University, discussed Israel's efforts to treat and reuse wastewater. He said Israel recycles over 80 percent of its sewage, providing local
agriculture with over half of its water supply.
Meanwhile in Arizona, use of reclaimed water is an up-and-coming topic. Ben Grumbles, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said in a recent interview, “Reclaiming wastewater is absolutely the future.” Arizona currently uses wastewater for only about 4 percent of its water demand.
Desalination is another example. Varady said, “The Israelis have gone whole hog for desalination, whereas here it is a hot topic righ felt they had no alternative. ... On the pure technical side I think it is pretty clear that Israel is ahead of us in terms of desalination simply because they have done it and are using it.”
Varady said the United States is ahead in a different area. “The kinds of things we might be able to impart may be softer than technical fixes...more of those societal kinds of things that have to do with how do you get people to participate in decision making. How do you try to get equity in the decision making process, and how do you do that in a transboundary way? How do you do it in a way that does not upset the other side? While we are by no means perfect at that, we are making some progress along those lines,” he said.
Varady noted that the United States Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program, a project involving three U.S. states and Mexico, might be viewed as a model. He said, “It is a good model because it starts off with the premise that both sides need to talk about common problems, and that when you are trying to access groundwater you cannot just access what is on one side. The basins extend across the border. And so it is a good example of bi-national collaboration.”
The AzIP workshop was only the first step in setting an agenda for broad collaboration in search of solutions to each region's most pressing water issues. As a neutral, third party research institution, the University of Arizona is well positioned to seek funding and serve as a hub for ongoing research that benefits Israelis, Palestinians, and Arizonans.