The southern stretch of the Jordan River will remain in poor condition unless less water is diverted for agriculture, a study sponsored by Friends of the Earth Middle East says.
The study, carried out by Dutch consulting firm DHV, was commissioned due to the river's deterioration south of the Kinneret - a stretch fed by saline springwater, fish-farm water and wastewater, but very little clean freshwater. The findings paint a picture of a river becoming increasingly salty, which in turn badly harms plants and animals.
The study looked at a number of possible scenarios, including what would happen if the current situation continued. In that case, there would be only a minor improvement in the southern stretch of the river - due to current plans to purify wastewater.
The study also examined the river's future if the flow of salty springwater is reduced and less water is drawn from the Kinneret. Israel could draw less water from the Kinneret if it increased production of desalinated water. In that case, the volume of water in the Jordan south of the lake would increase, though its quality would not improve significantly.
Friends of the Earth Middle East has Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian members. The study's findings were presented at a conference last week at Kinneret College.
The study suggests that a substantial improvement would require much greater flows of freshwater from the Kinneret and the Jordan's tributaries. This would require an additional reduction in the water diverted from the Kinneret, a freshwater lake, to the National Water Carrier, so the lake would rise and the amount of water flowing into the Jordan's southern stretch would be augmented.
The most drastic option is the reduction of water consumption in the area for agricultural use by 30 percent, along with a substantial curtailment of water use by area fish farms. This option, however, offers the farmers a concession; they would be allowed to draw water further south along the river. The study's authors said implementation of the last option would significantly improve the river's condition within 10 to 15 years.
The recommendations sparked opposition at the conference, not only from farmers but also from water resource management officials, who expressed doubts about the recommendations' feasibility.
The Water Authority's operations director, Ze'ev Ahipaz, said the Jordan's rehabilitation must start with the use of treated wastewater for agriculture - treated wastewater that is currently polluting the river. Freshwater must also be freed up from agricultural use. He said the Water Authority could only commit to a fraction of the volume of additional freshwater that Friends of the Earth Middle East is suggesting be added to the river.
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