June 26, 2008
From security to the environment — L.A. and Israel exchange ideas
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A delegation from Los Angeles, led by Mayor Villaraigosa, tours the baggage screening facility at Ben-Gurion Airport
A separate agreement signed last week between the LAPD and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya will provide homeland security training programs to Los Angeles' first-responders and law enforcement, as well as scholarships and internships for homeland security experts and students.
Although security was an integral part of the delegation's visit to Ashdod Port, which, in contrast to Ben-Gurion Airport, is surrounded by high fences and manned by uniformed security personnel, the main thrust of the visit was how to limit pollution and manage a large port.
If Israel has a lot to teach Los Angeles on the security front, said Molly Campbell, deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, Southern California has a great deal to teach Israel when it comes to clean energy.
In May, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles were awarded the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Excellence Award for reducing air emissions from ships, cargo-handling equipment, trains and other polluting vehicles serving the port.
"We're proud of our port's green efforts, which are already serving as a model for others," Campbell said.
During two events along the Yarkon River, the picturesque but semipolluted Tel Aviv waterway, whose contaminants claimed the lives of athletes who fell into the river during a bridge collapse during the 1997 Maccabiah Games, water experts shared know-how about river revitalization and methods to protect scarce water reserves. The Yarkon, whose waters flow through the heart of the humid city on the Mediterranean Sea, has been dredged, and a green park full of picnic tables and bike trails has been established on both banks.
As if to underscore the river's road to revitalization, a group of schoolchildren in a small tourist boat sailed by just as Villaraigosa was signing a memorandum. He met the children's waves with a loud "Shalom."
The visit took a more somber note during a meeting with professor Uri Shani, Israel's energetic water commissioner.
"You have caught us in the middle of a water crisis in Israel, the culmination of several years of drought," Shani told members of the Los Angeles group, who nodded in understanding. Israel and Los Angeles have similar climates and both are facing a dire shortage of water.
Twenty years ago, Shani said, Israel decided to save almost all its fresh water for human and animal consumption, which prompted the country to build desalination plants. He predicted that within four years, all waste (sewage) water would be processed and used to water crops.
Fresh water remains a major problem, Shani said, because seawater threatens to seep into the almost empty aquifers, contaminating them: "Unless we have a fantastic winter rainwise this year, the lawns will be dry, and the farmers will see their water cut 75 percent."