Text size

The Kinneret operations committee will meet today to decide whether to open the Degania dam at the southern end of the lake, and let possibly millions of cubic meters of drinking water flow to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

The committee will need to make its recommendation to the Water Commissioner, Shimon Tal, in order to keep the Kinneret from overflowing its banks and causing serious damage to agricultural settlements and tourist facilities on its shores.

Last Thursday morning the Kinneret reached a level of 210.01 meters below sea level, which is only 26 centimeters below the level set for opening the dam. This is still 95 centimeters below the upper red line, which means that the lake is completely full. As a result of the heavy rains recently, the lake is rising at a rate of 3-4 centimeters a day.

The final decision as to whether - and when - to open the dam depends on a number of factors: the forecast for rain, the level of the lake, the amount of run-off entering the lake, the time of year and many others which make up a complicated scientific model used by the water commission. The goal is to reach the maximum level for the Kinneret of -208.80 meters on May 1. This is the date that the water level starts to drop again, based on historical statistics.

Many critics have found it difficult to understand how the country will "waste" huge amounts of water by opening the dams, while at the same time it is building desalination plants at a cost of 100-150 percent more for lower quality wate. On average, the Degania dam has had to be opened about once every 10 years.

At the same time Mekorot and the water commission have continued to remind the public that in spite of the rising level of the Kinneret, it is still necessary to save water. Experts worry about the psychological effect on the public, who may stop trying to save water while the Kinneret overflows; even though for a very small investment it is possible to save up to 150 million cubic meters of water a year, regardless of the need every 10 years to let the water in the Kinneret flow to the Dead Sea.

In addition, the question arises every 10 years or so when the dam is opened, why Mekorot does not invest in methods to save the excess water instead of letting it run off into the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

The major alternative is to use the water to refill the coastal aquifer. This requires pumping the water into the National Water Carrier, and doubling its flow. In any case Mekorot is presently pumping 1.5 million cubic meters of water a day into the carrier, the maximum it is able to pump. But the price of doubling the flow would include a new, huge pipe and two enormous pumps. The estimated cost of these improvements is a billion shekels. If this new system is only used once every 10 years, then the price of this water saved would reach NIS 10 per cubic meter, as compared to the NIS 3 for desalinated water.

The cost of building additional reservoirs farther down the Jordan would lead to a similar price of NIS 10 per cubic meter. Raising the banks of the Kinneret is also considered impractical and would harm the agriculture and tourism industries around the lake's shores.