Why did Utah leaders go to Israel?

May 1, 2023, 6:53 AM | Updated: 6:56 am

The old city od Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 NEWS)...

The old city od Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 NEWS)

(Ben Winslow / FOX 13 NEWS)

This article is published through The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations that aims to inform readers about the Great Salt Lake.

TEL AVIV, Israel — One of the driest countries in the world, Israel once struggled to find enough freshwater to sustain its growing population in the midst of record droughts. Its largest body of freshwater, the Sea of Galilee, has suffered record low levels. Its saline lake, the Dead Sea, is dying from diversions upstream.

Sound familiar?

But Israel now has a surplus of water. And Utah policymakers who oversee the state’s dwindling water supplies want to know how the country did it. They want to bring back Israeli techniques and technology to save both the Great Salt Lake and to stretch water from the dwindling and over-tapped Colorado River. They wanted to identify solutions and build relationships to improve Utah’s water infrastructure, agricultural water use and conservation. 

According to Nathan Schwebach, deputy director of Utah Department of Natural Resources, the state’s goals were to:

  • See what Utah can learn from how Israel manages water to create a water innovation framework and hub here.
  • Solidify partnerships to test Israeli innovations and technologies in Utah, especially in agriculture.
  • Understand desalination and water reuse infrastructure and practices.
  • Explore how to plan for Utah’s growing communities by incorporating water use into land development. 
  • Understand how to potentially bolster Utah’s water “certainty” by identifying technologies for measuring water and gathering data.

This trip comes a year after the state went to Israel on a business trade mission where the Great Salt Lake was discussed.

Who went?

A team of 15 traveled to Tel Aviv in March. They represent the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Division of Water Resources, Utah Division of Water Rights, the Colorado River Authority of Utah, Utah State University, Washington County Water Conservancy District and Utah Department of Agriculture & Food. The group also included two lawmakers, a representative of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and a journalist representing the Great Salt Lake Collaborative.

How will this change water use in Utah?

Perhaps radically: “I want Utah to be the leader in the United States in water conservation, in water development, technology and innovation,” Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said after the trip.

Utah may see a bigger emphasis on water conservation; farmers saving water with drip irrigation; higher water rates; and experimentation with desalination and water reuse in southern Utah.

Schwebach says there could be more collaboration between industry, academia, research and development and government; new methods to improve water metering and gathering data; and improvement to infrastructure to reduce water loss. 

How and why did a journalist go?

The Great Salt Lake Collaborative — a group of local newsrooms and community partners who work together to cover the struggling Great Salt Lake — asked the state delegation if a reporter could attend. It’s important that Utahns know what solutions have been implemented elsewhere to understand what is possible here. The journalist’s travel costs were paid by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative.

How does water use and water rated compare between Utah and Israel?

Utahns use more water than Israelis do — and are charged less.

It is difficult to know how much water Utahns use and what they are charged, since such information is calculated by different, independent water agencies. But the Utah Division of Water Resources told the Collaborative that an average Wasatch Front household uses more than 13,600 gallons a month for personal indoor and outdoor use and pays an average of $60 a month, plus stormwater and wastewater fees.

Israeli officials told the Utah delegation that the average Israeli household pays about $150 a month. Israel uses a tiered tariff system. Basically, it’s a flat-rate of $2.12 a cubic meter (or 264 gallons) for up to about 1,000 gallons. After that, the price jumps to nearly $4 per cubic meter.

Israeli indoor water use per month was not available, but they are known to use less water than many countries. A Utah State University paper on the Great Salt Lake shows Utahns used 650% more water per person than Israelis in 2013.

Utah’s price for water doesn’t even cover the true cost of water which is subsidized by property taxes (and some nonprofits, like churches and schools, don’t pay any property taxes and therefore pay very little for water). 

Is Israel trying to save the Dead Sea?

The Dead Sea, a saline lake that sits on Israel’s border with Jordan, is surrounded by a smaller population (compared to the Great Salt Lake where the majority of Utahns live). 

Schwebach says Israel is developing a long-term plan for the sea and is looking at options like importing water from the Red Sea or the Mediterranean. “They are facing similar water challenges of it shrinking at a very fast pace from water shortages and mineral extraction,” he says. 

How is alfalfa farmed in Israel?

Like in Utah, Israel’s top water user is agriculture. Farming in Israel uses 56% of the water vs. roughly 70% in Utah.

Around 85% of all Israeli farms use drip or subsurface irrigation, including for alfalfa. Drip irrigation uses as much as 50% less water compared to flood irrigation and pivot sprinkler systems, which are widely used in Utah. 

What about Palestine? 

The delegation didn’t meet with any members of the Palestinian Authority nor did they travel to the West Bank. The visit was focused solely on Israel and how its government and tech sector is handling water. All members of the delegation were required to follow the itinerary for security reasons. The state worked with the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to plan the trip.



We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Utah Drought

Going into this past winter, Utah was in what officials called an exceptional drought, registering ...

Adam Small

Record Utah winter makes up for years-long water shortfall

Utah has experienced a water shortfall for the past three years, but right now most of the state has exited a severe drought stage.

4 days ago

The summer heat record in 2022 for Utah shattered records. As we look to this year, meteorologists ...

Lindsay Aerts

The record-breaking heat of summer 2022 unlikely to repeat in Utah this year

The summer of 2023 was one for the Utah heat record books with a whopping 34 days of triple-digit temperatures.

4 days ago

The sun sets on the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake on March 16. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox nominate...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

New Great Salt Lake commissioner says he hopes Utah avoids ‘Great Salt Lake fatigue’

Brian Steed wants Utahns to stay engaged in helping the lake's recovery, because it's not going to happen overnight.

5 days ago

Lake Powell is expected to rise 70 feet this Spring, but water managers said it doesn't take away t...

Adam Small

Lake Powell bounces back from record-low water levels

Lake Powell is expected to rise 40 more feet this summer, but water managers said it doesn't take away the need to conserve water in the long run.

10 days ago

wetlands at the great salt lake pictured...

Ben Winslow, FOX 13

SLC looks to preserve a chunk of Great Salt Lake land as development encroaches

The move would help keep the area as a nature preserve even as the inland port and other development moves closer and closer to the Great Salt Lake.

11 days ago

SenThere's still a lot of exposed lake bed around The Great Salt Lake and water managers say it's g...

Adam Small

Water experts say it’s going to take more than one big year to fill the Great Salt Lake

There's still a lot of exposed lake bed around The Great Salt Lake and water managers say it's going to take more than just this year to cover a lot of it again.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

Why did Utah leaders go to Israel?