Let There Be Water Summary and Review

by Seth M. Siegel

Has Let There Be Water by Seth M. Siegel been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.

How is it that a land that is made up of 60 percent by desert, has a sufficient amount of water to stop a growing population and also a booming agricultural sector? Israel proves that necessity in addition to innovation equals success. In this piece, you will learn how a government who dedicates their resources to a very pressing problem leads to smart environmental policies and a sustainable water supply, even from dry land. As we take a step towards a land that is becoming warmer, there is the potential we may have serious water shortages, and the time is now to start dealing with this looming crisis. In this summary, we will explain how the Israelis expert water technology can help us keep our taps running.

In this summary of Let There Be Water by Seth M. Siegel, you will learn:

  • How the Israeli stamps and currency give water the center stage;
  • How a small leak in a pipe revolutionize agricultural water use; and
  • Why taking salt from seawater changed Israel forever.

Let There Be Water Key Idea #1: Long term planning and water mindfulness is the key for water self-sufficiency.

Desert lands contribute to 60 percent of Israel, a nation where annual rainfall is not very plentiful. But still, Israel doesn’t suffer water shortages. They have enough surplus water to export to neighboring nations and could teach other countries how to be wise with their water usage.   This began with Israel’s need to respect water. Droughts are very common when you are living in the desert and this makes it hard for Israelis to take water for granted. As well as this, they teach mindful use of water in schools, telling students how they can minimize their usage.   Mindful use of water goes further back than this. Jewish religion prays for rain at a certain time of the year, and this has happened three times a day for centuries. Water has also been featured on the countries currency and on their postage stamps. The five-shelek note celebrates the Israel’s National Water Carrier which is the countries largest water project and the stamps commemorate ancient water systems. Their mindfulness of water has been a crucial part of managing water shortages and has provided the foundations for the nations long-term plan of self-sufficiency with water usage. In the early days of the country, Israel's greatest water resources were located far north, along the border of Lebanon and Syria. However, this wasn’t a part of the country that had a great need for water. The largely populated Tel Aviv area, as well as the southern Negev desert,  didn’t have enough water to maintain their growing population or support profitable agriculture, this was a big problem. So what did the country do? Throughout the development of a large infrastructure project, surplus water from the north of Israel, was transported to the central and southern regions. Israel’s National Water Carrier was completed in 1964 and it represented a huge leap forward to being self-sufficient in terms of water. But there was even more innovation that was to come.

Let There Be Water Key Idea #2: Israeli scientists discovered innovations such as drip irrigation and sewage water treatment.

Simcha Blass, a Jewish water engineer visited a farm in the 1930s when he noticed that something was strange. He examined a row of planted trees and saw that one was much taller than the others. He discovered that there was a small leak in an irrigation pipe that was near the base of the taller tree. He thought that the small but steady drops of water helped the trees flourish. From this, the idea of drip irrigation was created. This over time revolutionized the way water was used in agriculture, worldwide and in Israel. Before this discovery by Blass,  flood irrigation was the method accepted for watering crops. Using this method, water commanded more than 70 percent of the overall water consumption of Israel. However, in contrast to this, drip irrigation saves water while doubling the crop output. This allows more food to be produced while making more water available for household use. This raised living standards overall. Israeli scientists also pioneered the process of treating and reusing sewage water. Sewage water is the water that goes down the sink, showers, bathtubs and toilets. As many nations still do, Israel used to dump its sewage water without treating it. Nowadays, it reuses over 85 percent of the once wasted water. How? The process that the country uses is called a sand aquifer treatment (SAT). Israeli hydrologists discovered that fine sand was an effective filter for cleaning wastewater. Sewage can be used to supply a third of the water that is needed for agriculture using the SAT system. Israel now saves more than one hundred billion gallons of water using the SAT system every year.

Let There Be Water Key Idea #3: Desalination helped progress water solutions in Israel to cement the country’s self-sufficiency.

Since the state of Israel was founded in 1948, scientists have pondered the problem of how to make salty seawater potable. The large-scale desalination of Mediterranean seawater was seen as an ideal solution to persistent water shortages. Israel was founded in 1948 and since then scientists have pondered the problem of making salty seawater potable. But was such a project feasible? Alexander Yarchin, a chemist, was responsible for conducting the first attempts to desalinate salt water in the late 1940s. He proposed that by spraying water into a vacuum and then freezing it, it pushes the salt out. This proved too impractical and expensive to be a solution. However, in 1966 Israel made a breakthrough in desalination technology. A Jewish-American chemical engineer named Signey Loeb, worked in Israel and developed a technique called reverse osmosis. In reverse osmosis, water is pushed through a membrane which causes pure water to move one way and the salt molecules to move the other direction. This was the practical desalination that Israel had been waiting for. This form of desalination has shaped the water profile of modern Israel. The country can withstand dry weather conditions, they can conserve groundwater sources as well as facilitate peaceful relations with the Palestinian National Authority and Jordan for fair water distribution.  

Let There Be Water Key Idea #4: Their water expertise became a booming export industry.

  Israel's water science has excelled, whether this being in desalination or drip irrigation. After their domestic success, Israeli entrepreneurs are exploring global opportunities for water conservation. The result of this has been the transformation of Israel’s water expertise into a lucrative export industry. An example of this is the Israeli company Bermand, they created a device which cuts off water flow when a certain amount has passed through the meter. This ensures there isn’t a drop of water wasted and only the allowed amount is used. Bermand has sold its solution in 80 countries and employed over 600 people. Israeli water-technology companies share their expertise with neighboring Arab countries, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority. There is a dire water situation in Gaza as more water is drawn from the ground than there is rainfall. Groundwater has, therefore, become more saline or salty and therefore undrinkable. Israel has now stepped in to provide this region with clean and potable water. They have also provided training, technology and assistance to the Palestinian National Authority as they work towards new solutions. Israel and the Palestinian National Authority have grouped together with Jordan to develop an ambitious project to desalinate and redistribute Red Sea Water among the three nations.

Let There Be Water Key Idea #5: Water is a central part of Israel’s diplomatic relations with China and other nations.

As Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab nations and Israel has been subject to intense diplomatic isolation. But by sharing water technologies, the country has successfully formed in new international bonds. Israel’s relationship with China is a good example. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Chinese government renewed its diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel’s affiliation with the United States and China’s reliance on Arab oil prevented the two nations from forming an alliance. China, is struggling with their water issues and in the mid-1980s, the Chinese government invited Israeli water engineers to assist with an irrigation plan for the Wuwei district, south of the Gobi desert. This started with Israel having something that China needed, which was water expertise. It wasn’t until long after this initial project that the two nations began to build an official diplomatic relationship. Water plays a central role in Israeli diplomacy, with both wealthy and also developing nations. From the late 1950s onward, Israeli shared their irrigation techniques with developing nations, including countries in Africa. Today, over 100 African nations and countries around the world reap the benefits of Israeli training programs in water management and irrigation. An Israeli company Tahal specializes in water-technology solutions for the developing world by designing supply systems for urban areas and irrigation plans for agricultural land. Developed countries and regions could also have something to learn from Israeli technology. Los Angeles, a city which is in southern California is often plagued by drought. They sought help from Israeli companies in addressing polluted groundwater sources.

Let There Be Water Key Idea #6: Real-cost pricing, public ownership and innovation keep the taps running at the full capacity.

After living in fear of shortages, Israel now enjoys both independence from climate conditions and has confidence in its abundant reserves of water. There are three key factors that got Israel to where it is today. What are they? Public ownership of water is a cornerstone of Israel’s success. Since 1959, the Israel Water law has stated that water is to be managed centrally by government agencies, and not private corporations. This law means that the government has an accurate picture of the resources available while planning the countries water needs. Real cost pricing of water, is the second key aspect of Israeli water policy.  In many other nations, subsidies prevent people from paying the real cost of the water they need and use are the norm. In Israel, this isn’t the case, people who use water is expected to cover the costs without any government subsidies. Why is this? Real, unsubsidized pricing is more expensive and encourages consumers to use the water that they need and not waste it, this is a simple but also effective conservation strategy. Finally, Israel is a large supported of innovation in water technology. The government has acted as a catalyst in many new water ventures, by offering them financial incentives. As well as this, there is a nationwide enthusiasm for new ideas which has inspired over 200 water-innovation start-ups to launch over the past decade. Municipal water utilities also receive financial help from the government to use for testing and implementing new technologies.


The key message in this book: As global water problems loom, Israeli water solutions serve as models for the world. Using technological innovation, political foresight and public mindfulness, Israel went from a nation that was struggling with scarcity to now water abundance. Today, Israel now shares its expertise with both developing and developed countries around the world.