By this weekend, the water level of Lake Kinneret will drop to minus 214.30 meters. This figure has particular importance because, according to the recommendations of experts on the staff of Israel's Water Commission who are closely following the lake's situation, the water level must not drop below this line, so as to prevent any damage to the quality of Lake Kinneret's water and to its ecological system.
However, as has happened over the past few years in connection with Israel's water resources, the predictions of the experts and their words of warning hold no weight in the eyes of the politicians who make the decisions. These politicians have not seen to the implementation of water-economizing measures that could have moderated the use of the country's water resources. Thus, the political decision-makers are continuing to place Lake Kinneret and Israel's groundwater resources in jeopardy.
The professional opinion of both experts on the team monitoring the Kinneret that was set up by the Water Commission and the staff of the Yigal Allon Kinneret Limnological Laboratory was submitted to the Water Commission several months ago. This professional opinion expresses broad agreement that the low levels of the Kinneret over an extended period of time are causing phenomena that could impair the quality of the inner lake's water.
The lower limit set by the experts was minus 214.30 meters. This is not, of course, a precise demarcation line above which everything is perfectly fine and below which things begin to deteriorate; nonetheless, this prescribed limit does represent, in the view of the experts, a danger line that should not be crossed.
The sharp drop in the levels of Lake Kinneret, which supplies about a third of the water consumed in Israel, is a process that has been going on for the past three years. This year, about 85 percent of the annual average precipitation received by Lake Kinneret fell into its catchment basin and only a portion of this precipitation became surface runoff (that is, water that flows along the ground) and reached the lake.
One of the greatest fears of the experts is that the lowering of the lake's water level could bring about the lake's salinization as a result of the infiltration of water from salty wells. The salinization has not occured; however, a number of warning signs have emerged. These signs indicate that negative phenomena have already begun to take place in the lake, although the quality of the water is still good.
The negative phenomena include an increase in concentrations of algae, which could impair the quality of the Kinneret's water, and murkiness in a portion of the lake to a depth of 18 meters. Tourist attractions along the shores of the Sea of Galilee have been hard hit by the drop in the water's level, and in those areas from which the water has receded, changes are taking place in the soil and in the vegetation. These changes could also have a bad effect on the water's quality.
The experts monitoring Lake Kinneret do not generally belong in the category of panic-mongers or doomsday prophets. Nevertheless, they have recently begun to issue dire warnings, once they realized that the politicians had no intention of implementing their recommendation concerning the danger line beyond which the level of the Kinneret, in their opinion, must not fall.
The managers of Israel's water resources today have very limited maneuverability. The planned water desalination plants will be operational only in another two to three years, while the country's major ground water reservoirs, the mountain aquifer and the coastal aquifer, are in very bad shape because of a protracted period of excessive pumping and because of the diminished rainfall.
Under such circumstances, the only possibility of protecting both Lake Kinneret and Israel's ground water reservoirs from danger would have been to carry out meaningful water-saving measures over a period of a few months. However, most of the water-conservation steps proposed by the Water Commission - including a ban on watering gardens for a number of months - were rejected.
The drastic drop in Lake Kinneret's level and the potential dangers it poses is the direct result of the approach taken by the government that is showing no concern for Israel's water resources - because the government is incapable of, or simply not interested in, undertaking the measures that are essential for managing this crisis. All of the crucial decisions, including those pertaining to water desalination and to water-economizing steps in the agricultural sector, either are made too late or offer only partial solutions. Urban consumption of water has diminished by only a fraction and, so far, no final decision has been made on the means that could enable an increase in the water rates for farmers.
It is still not too late to introduce significant water-conservation measures. Most of the experts agree that the present crisis will continue next year as well, even if Israel enjoys an average rainfall. It is possible to reduce considerably the dangers faced by Israel's water resources through the implementation of a long-term, consistent policy of reducing water consumption. That policy should include measures such as the establishment of lower water quotas for Israeli families (that is, lower than the individual family's annual average rate of water consumption). For any deviation from that lower quota, the family would have to pay a much higher rate for its water. Another measure that could be implemented would be cash refunds for persons who purchase water-saving devices, such as smaller flush tanks for their toilets and flow regulators.
These devices are not Israeli inventions nor are they theoretical instruments. They are being used effectively in various American states. Although the United States has an abundance of water, some of its regions are plagued by periodic drought. The devices were introduced in the 1970s and the result has been double-digit savings in water consumption. It is interesting to note that the water-conserving behavior of the consumers has continued even after the lifting of financial sanctions for deviations from the fixed quotas.
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