Rains Likely to Force Opening of Sea of Galilee Dam Closed Since 1995

Step would be taken to prevent flooding of communities near shore

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The Sea of Galilee, February 7, 2020.
The Sea of Galilee, February 7, 2020. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The Water Authority is preparing to open the Degania Dam at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee due to the rising level of the lake from this winter’s plentiful rainfall, to prevent flooding of the communities near the shoreline. According to Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor, at the moment the chances the dam will be opened are 50-50, but “one unusual rain event could change the whole story.” The dam was last opened in 1995.

According to the Water Authority, the criteria for opening the dam were set with the idea of not waiting until the water level reached or exceeded the so-called upper red line (208.8 meters below sea level), because if it does, the lake could continue to fill faster that the dam could release it.

For example, the dam will be opened on February 29 if the water level is predicted to rise during the first five days of March to more than 209.3 meters below sea level – 50 centimeters from the upper red line. The dam will also open if in the five-day period after March 21 the water is predicted to rise to more than 209 meters below sea level – 20 centimeters under the upper red line.

The water level on Wednesday morning stood at 209.99 meters below sea level.

According to Meteotech Meteorological Services weatherman Nahum Malik, rainfall in the second half of February and in March is expected to be average or more in the north and center. The Sea of Galilee is expected to rise considerably, Malik says, adding that the coming days will see warmer weather but another rainy spell, this one more moderate than the last, is expected early next week.

According to Shor, the level of the Sea of Galilee has risen since the beginning of the rainy season by 1.8 meters, exceeding the multi-annual average by about 25 centimeters. Shore added that last year the lake rose by 3.47 meters but “the five winters that preceded the last two were very dry and the level of the Kinneret was worryingly low.” As a result of the dry winters the Water Authority reduced the amount of water it pumped from the lake to a minimum, which raised the water level, Shor notes

The Degania Dam regulates the Sea of Galilee’s flow into the Jordan River and from there to the Dead Sea. As much as 150 cubic meters of water per second can flow through the open floodgate, which reduces the level of the lake by 7.5 centimeters a day.

The head of the Galilee water supply unit in the Mekorot Water Company, Alon Lev, said that the rising level of water in the Sea of Galilee will not raise the water level in the Dead Sea because “these quantities, in relation to there [the Dead Sea] are not noticeable.”

According to Lev, various streambeds are also sending significant quantities of water into the Jordan River, and there are already areas along the Jordan that have been flooded. “If the dam is opened significantly more water will flow in and could cause damage or additional flooding.” Lev explained that the policy of the Water Authority is to open the dam in a limited way to prevent damage downstream in the Jordan. In 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence, Lev says, “They gave the order to open the dam to prevent the Syrian Army in the Degania area and the Iraqi Legion at Naharayim [downstream from Degania] from crossing the Jordan.”