Drought in focus for new Australia-Israel cooperation on water management

By  Tom McIlroy

Australian Financial Review

21 January, 2019

Israel’s former state water commissioner says better management of supply and changes in storage methods should be key to preparedness for more regular and longer lasting droughts in Australia.

Completing a visit to NSW and Queensland organised by leading businessman and ANZ chairman David Gonski and the Jewish National Fund of Australia, Shimon Tal said Israel’s success in developing so-called “new water” technology could be hard to replicate in Australian agriculture, but improved efficiency in water transport, reservoir management and ground water use could take pressure off communities and businesses in future drought events.

A founding director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, Mr Tal was accompanied on the visit to Australia by the director of the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, Noam Weisbrod, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor Eilon Adar.

Members of the Israeli delegation toured NSW and Queensland, meeting with experts, policy makers and business representatives

The delegation met with experts, government officials and businesses, part of efforts to promote cooperation between the two countries.

“In Israel, we also think in terms of advanced water management, the water sector, but it is not a cut and paste thing,” Mr Tal said.

“You cannot copy management principles from one place to another without considering the existing conditions in each place, including geographical, climate, cultural, social aspects of water management.

“We have to prepare ourselves for the future. In Australia, you should emphasise much more efficient ways to use the water resources. We have seen efficiency is a very important issue in sustainable water management, including in irrigation, efficiency in using the ground water resources and in storage and the like.”

Team effort

The visit, coordinated by the Embassy of Israel in Canberra and representatives of the NSW and Queensland state governments, comes as the two states and communities across eastern Australia struggle with entrenched drought conditions and the need for reliable water supply.

It included discussions on cooperation for improved management of water shortages and technological innovation for reuse, purification, conservation and management.

The Morrison government has established a $5 billion fund for drought relief, providing assistance to primary producers, community organisations and rural communities.

Storms in NSW before Christmas were ineffective for significant pasture and crop production, while more than 58 per cent of Queensland is currently classified as drought affected.

Mr Tal said international cooperation on water and drought responses should increase, including economic development which could lead to job creation.

Israel reuses more than 90 per cent of the sewerage effluent and has built desalination plants to double the use of natural water.

“In Israel we have to learn from what is happening here in Australia and maybe rethink what we are already doing ourselves. Cooperation between government officials and between scientists and the academic world should be much stronger between our two countries,” he said.

Israel’s former state water commissioner and founding director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research Shimon Tal in Australia.

On Monday, Labor announced plans for top scientists to prepare a report on the causes of the mass fish kill in the Darling River at Menindee.

The group, led by the Australian Academy of Science, will report before Parliament resumes.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has sought advice on any possible “step change” to water inflows due to climate change.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud last week asked the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to convene an emergency meeting of state and federal water managers and environmental water holders, but the NSW government insists drought remains a key factor in the fish kill.