A grave event is going to occur in the north of Israel in the days or weeks ahead. If Lake Kinneret continues its rapid rise, the Degania dam, which is located south of the lake and prevents the flow of water into the Jordan River, will be opened. For a short time, man will lose his ability to exploit nature totally. The water will flow into the Jordan, even reaching the Dead Sea, whose level has decreased greatly because water no longer enters it.
Recently, criticism has been voiced about what was described as the expected waste of water, which could be utilized for farming or home purposes. Some economists are calling for a reconsideration of the establishment of facilities to desalinate sea water. They argue that if the Kinneret is so full that some of its water has to be channeled into the Jordan River, there is no justification for building these facilities.
Instead of being happy that the sewage-saturated Jordan will receive some clean water, if only on a one-time basis, those issuing the warnings against waste are clinging to the Israeli routine, in which the role of streams is to be sewage pipes or drainage canals.
This is the place to reiterate what should be self-evident: The Jordan River, Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea are not only unique natural resources, but also historical sites of world importance. They were the setting for some of the central events in the ancient history of the Jewish people, early Christianity and the onset of Zionist settlement. They also have an important place in the Arab heritage of the region.
In order to preserve these places, the supply of water to them should be set as a national goal that is no less important than the supply of water to agriculture and industry. The decline of the level of Lake Kinneret in the years of drought caused tremendous damage to the tourist industry and seriously affected the ecosystem along the lakeshore. According to one estimate, the drought of 1998-2000 caused NIS 100 million in damage to the tourist industry.
To ensure that the Hula Valley nature reserve, the Jordan River, the Yarkon River, the Ein Gedi nature reserve and many other sites receive a minimal amount of water, and that the shores of Lake Kinneret do not turn into a wasteland every time there is a drought, the Degania dam should be opened for lengthy periods during the winter months, so water will flow into the southern section of the Jordan. Today, the opening of the dam is perceived as a waste of water, because there is still total dependence on rainwater to meet the need for drinking water and irrigation water.
The opportunity to rehabilitate nature became more realistic after the government decided, four years ago, to establish desalination facilities, and the general amount of water for all needs, including those of nature, was increased. However, it turns out that the only purpose of these facilities, at least according to economists and politicians, is to supply water for household, agricultural and industrial use. So, whenever there is a rainy year, the pressure grows to reduce the number of desalination facilities.
In order to save the Jordan River, which is now in a sorry state, and to ensure high water levels in Lake Kinneret, the idea of restoring water to nature has to be treated as another consideration to be taken into account when deciding when and how many desalination plants to build. Because, as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel put if succinctly, the Kinneret is not a ditch from which water is pumped. Certainly it's more expensive to build desalination plants, but the answer to that is that the state will have to choose which infrastructure facilities to invest in, and it's possible that it will be justified to forgo the building of a few roads, or of new and unnecessary new villages, in order to establish more desalination facilities.
The Nature and Parks Authority and the Environment Ministry recently drew up a policy paper entitled "Nature's Right to Water." It recommends ensuring the flow of 130 million cubic meters of water into the Jordan every year - an amount of water that represents about one meter in the level of Lake Kinneret. According to the document, the cost of desalinating one cubic meter of water and channeling it into the water supply system decreased between 1985 and 2000 from $1.60 to 60 cents. The cost of desalinating water on a large scale is a minuscule portion of Israel's Gross Domestic Product, and it is fully justified, because it will prevent damage to the tourism industry and the environment.
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