The Israel Water Authority will shortly begin, for the first time, to pump water regularly from Lake Kinneret into the southern Jordan River in an effort to ecologically rehabilitate the river, the authority announced Thursday.
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During the first stage, 1,000 cubic meters an hour will be pumped from the lake into the river. At a later stage, the plan is to pump 30 million cubic meters a year into the river.
The plan to shore up the southern Jordan was presented Thursday at a conference organized by the Southern Jordan Streams and Drainage Authority, and it is a comprehensive plan that includes enhancing the water quality and developing projects to encourage tourism in the area.
In recent decades the water level of the southern Jordan River has dropped dramatically, because the flow of water into in from the Kinneret and the Yarmuk River has been almost totally blocked by dams. The quality of the water has seriously deteriorated, because the sewage of all the communities along the river has been flowing into it. Water from the Kinneret now only reaches the southern Jordan River if the lake’s level rises above the upper red line, at which point, to prevent flooding, the dams are opened to let water flow into the river.
One of the major components of this rehabilitation plan is stopping the flow of sewage into the river and pumping clean Kinneret water into the river instead. Water Authority head Alex Kushnir told the conference that by the end of this month thousands of cubic meters of water would be flowing from the Kinneret every day.
“Within two years we will increase the quantity and it will reach 30 million cubic meters a year,” said Kushnir. “I know that’s not enough, but that’s what we can manage now. We won’t be able to restore the river to its historic flow levels of the past.”
The improvement will be primarily in the quality of the water. According to Kushnir, by the end of this year a waste treatment plant will be treating the sewage that now flows into the river. Next year, the plant will be upgraded and the treated wastewater will be suitable for agricultural use.
In addition, small desalination installations will be built to desalinate the saline water from the Kinneret springs that now flow into the Jordan, and some of the water will be allowed to continue into the river after treatment. Thus, the salinity level of the lower Jordan’s water will also be reduced.
All these activities are being conducted with the agreement in coordination with the Kingdom of Jordan. Sa’ad Abu Hamour, the Jordanian representative to the joint Israeli-Jordanian Water Committee, attended Thursday’s conference. He said that his country also wants the river’s water quality to improve, but that at this stage this was a solely Israeli-funded project.
The Palestinians are currently not involved. Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli director of the Friends of the Earth-Middle East environmental group criticized the officials promoting this plan for not soliciting Palestinian cooperation.
“We can’t deal with the political issues right now,” responded Kushnir. “If we do, it will delay the efforts we are already making.” Abu Hamour noted, however, that because the Palestinians aren’t being included, the river will be cleaner in the area closer to the Kinneret but will remain polluted in its southernmost section, near the Dead Sea.
According to the Southern Jordan Streams and Drainage Authority, during the coming summer the National Mine-Clearance Authority will start removing mines and the fence along a 30-kilometer stretch of the river. This will eventually allow public access to parts of the river that are currently closed off.