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How Israeli tech may alleviate California's drought problem

How has Israel transformed a country that is 60 percent desert into one of the most productive and profitable agricultural centers in the world?

Two words: irrigation technology.

Some of that technology will now be used to help California, which is facing such a severe drought that Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a state of emergency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting California this week, and part of that visit involves a trade deal designed to help alleviate California's serious drought.

The urgency of California's water crisis could be felt nationwide, due to the state's central role in the country's food production.

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California's central valley grows 99 percent of the country's almonds and pistachios, 96 percent of all tomatoes, 89 percent of all lemons, 86 percent of all carrots and 49 percent of all lettuce farmed in America, according to California's Department of Food and Agriculture.

All told, California produced more than $44 billion in fresh produce last year, and the drought threatens up to $11 billion of that this year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and California Gov. Jerry Brown (L) shake hands after signing a pact to strengthen economic and research ties between California and Israel at the Computer History Museum on March 5, 2014 in Mountain View, Calif.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and California Gov. Jerry Brown (L) shake hands after signing a pact to strengthen economic and research ties between California and Israel at the Computer History Museum on March 5, 2014 in Mountain View, Calif.

As part of an effort to alleviate the drought, Israel's IDE Technologies is building what is believed will be the largest desalinization plant in the Western hemisphere. When completed in 2016, the plant will be able to provide 50 million gallons of potable water a day.

Desalination is the process by which salt water is treated and processed before being turned into clean, drinkable water.

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There are three smaller desalination plants already operating in California, and there are plans to build 15 more, though it's unclear whether IDE would be a part of those other 15.

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Drought, irrigation technology and ways the Israelis can help with alleviating the crisis here in California is at the top of the agenda. But even as Netanyahu and Brown shake hands and sign deals, there is no quick and easy solution to California's severe drought, other than a lot more rain.

—By CNBC's Mark Berniker. Follow him on Twitter @markberniker.

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