The Man Who Can Save The World From Wasting Water

Innovator Amir Peleg and his company TaKaDu have revolutionised the Israeli water network.

Amir Peleg hunches his broad, 6-foot-3-inch frame into a tunnel leading to one of several reservoirs that supply water to Jerusalem. Condensation collects on the ceiling, inches overhead, like thousands of tiny stalactites. Peleg, an entrepreneur whose self-given job title is “chief plumbing officer”, catches a droplet on his palm. “Literally every drop counts,” he says. “This is the modern-day Gihon.” Gihon was the ancient, intermittent spring that made human settlement possible in Jerusalem circa 700 BC. Today, fresh water sources in Israel and the surrounding region are more precious than they were in the Bronze Age. About 1 million residents continually draw water from this reservoir, which is filled by pipelines snaking from the Sea of Galilee 145 kilometres north. Located at the edge of Jerusalem, the reservoir is held in a massive underground vault patrolled by armed guards to keep insurgents from poisoning the supply. Thick cement walls surround a floodlit pool of water, ghostly and luminous, 40 feet deep and wider and longer than two football fields.

Like most of its neighbours, Israel is a desert nation, and during the past seven years it’s struggled through a drought with  record-low rainfall. In response, Peleg and others have come up with an array of innovations, from microscopic sewage scrubbers to supersize desalination plants to smart water networks. Israel now has higher agricultural yields than it’s had in non-drought years. It even has a water surplus, a portion of which (about 150  million cubic metres per year) it pumps to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. “I don’t think it’s overkill to say that Israeli entrepreneurs are disrupting and reinventing how the world creates and conserves water,” says Peleg, 48. He’s become one of the leaders of a water-tech movement that began in the 1950s, when Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, implored scientists and engineers to “make the desert bloom”. In 2008, Peleg’s startup, TaKaDu, began designing software that uses mathematical algorithms to detect and prevent leaks in water pipelines. Peleg has silver, buzz-cut hair, arching black eyebrows, and a jaw like an anvil—George Clooney’s indomitable Danny Ocean meets the affable Schneider from One Day at a Time. He’s part swaggering CEO and part scrappy superintendent. Detecting leaks may seem like a small concern, but it matters, especially in environments where water is scarce and expensive. Of Israel’s total water demand (2.2 billion cubic metres a year), less than one-tenth is supplied by freshwater sources such as the Sea of Galilee. The rest comes from filtered gray water—Israel recycles more than 85 per cent of its wastewater—and from desalination, an expensive process that transforms saltwater into drinking water. “Among all conservation technologies in development, the most valuable detect leakage in networks,” says Avshalom Felber, chief executive officer of IDE Technologies, Israel’s biggest desalination company. On average, utilities worldwide lose more than 30 per cent of the water they distribute in their networks. By comparison, Jerusalem’s utility—Hagihon, Peleg’s first customer in 2009—wastes less than 10 per cent of its supply, thanks in large part to TaKaDu. Over the past five years, venture capital firms and companies including 3M and ABB have invested more than $20 million in TaKaDu, and its software has been adopted by 14 other utilities in cities from Campo Grande, Brazil, to Bilbao, Spain. Last month, Peleg signed with Australia’s biggest utility, Sydney Water. Collectively, these utilities manage about 64,373 km of water pipelines. Peleg won’t disclose TaKaDu’s revenue but says it’s grown more than 50 per cent annually over the past two years…

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