U.C. Berkeley grad student goes on-site to study Israel’s drought innovations

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Madhyama Subramanian had to get used to working on Sundays, as is the custom in Israel. Not that it bothered her. A fellow with the Jerusalem Institute’s Milken Innovation Center, Subramanian made the most of her recently wrapped eight-week sojourn in the Holy Land.

The U.C. Berkeley graduate with a master’s degree in development practice was in Israel to study water technology, a major concern in Israel, California and in her native India. Subramanian’s fellowship included a job at Netafim, the Israeli company that pioneered drip irrigation.

Last month she was joined by a delegation of more than 60 business leaders, water-technology researchers and government officials from California and Israel for an innovations lab: three days of meetings, field trips and demonstrations of water-saving technologies.

Madhyama Subramanian in Israel photo/michelle moskowitz

“What struck me was the spirit of innovation and enterprise,” Subramanian, 33, said of the experience. “[Israelis] use all kinds of tools at their disposal and for very practical purposes.”

That includes Israel’s national strategy for maximizing water resources, which includes wastewater recycling, desalinization and conservation.

Subramanian and the California delegation toured Tel Aviv’s huge wastewater recycling utility, the Sorek desalinization plant (the world’s largest), the Zuckerberg Institute of Water Research at Ben-Gurion University and Mekorot, Israel’s national water authority.

They also met with representatives of Israeli water startups, including one called CuraPipe, a leak repair system that can be injected into any water pipe and fix tiny leaks.

The fellowship and lab were co-organized by Michelle Moskowitz, director of government and community relations from U.C. Berkeley’s Office of the Chancellor. She accompanied the California delegation to Israel, and expressed pride in Subramanian and the two other U.C. grad students in the Milken fellowship.

Moskowitz says the fellowship and innovations lab grew out of a memorandum of understanding signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

The Milken Center raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from several California family foundations to sponsor the project, which features innovation labs on other topics, such as health care and food resources.

Living in bone-dry California, Moskowitz said it was an easy call for her to plan an innovations lab around drought and water.

“Israel overcame its water management and [water] shortage issues through technology, policy, outreach and public advertising,” she said. “They did an impressive job on changing behavior on water use. These are things California can benefit from.”

A native of Mumbai, Subramanian said she enjoyed Israel. She picked up some Hebrew words, and despite the Israeli reputation for curtness, she found Israelis very cordial.

“Israel and India have a good relationship,” she said. “People can see I’m from India and tell me they like Indian food, and how so many of them travel to India, especially after the army.”

Moskowitz has been to Israel many times and has family in the country. Seeing Subramanian and the other Milken Center fellows connect with the country was a bonus.

“To them it was the most eye-opening thing,” she noted. “They read about the scary things in the Middle East, but they had no idea Israel was so advanced in terms of technology and policy in terms of water management.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.