Drop in Water Levels in Israel's Sea of Galilee Basin Hurting Agriculture, Tourism

Water flow in sources of Jordan River is 40% lower than average this year

Zafrir Rinat
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Man walks with his child amid water shortage in the Sea of Galilee basin. 2017
Man walks with his child amid water shortage in the Sea of Galilee basin. 2017Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat

The continued decline in the amount of water in the Lake Kinneret basin area is causing serious damage to the tourism industry, in particular rafting and kayaking on the Jordan River, as well as harming agriculture in the region.

Environmental organizations are now trying to formulate a plan, in coordination with the Water Authority, which would use the water in the region to allow agriculture to continue – alongside recreational water activities in the streams.

The predicament of the water sources in the Sea of Galilee basin was presented on a tour of the area by representatives of the Knesset water caucus along with the Society for the Protection of Nature’s water forum on Sunday. Two Knesset members, Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) and Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas), took part in the tour.

Over the past few months, the water flow in the sources of the Jordan River including the Dan Springs, the river’s main water source, have been about 40 percent below the annual average. This means a much smaller quantity of water reached the Jordan – and this amount becomes even smaller after farmers pump their irrigation water for crops from the river. Every year farmers build a small dam on the river to raise the water level, and they are allowed to keep pumping when the water level drops.

Those who suffer the most from the lower water levels are the operators of the kayaking and rafting sites. Often the level drops so low it is too dangerous for the kayaks as too many rocks are exposed, says Pini Almog, manager of the Abukayak site in the Jordan River National Park. In some places along the route, the tourists must get out of the boats and walk.

The Water Authority has required farmers to release some of the water from the dam they built to allow the kayaking sites to operate, as well as to save the flora and fauna along the river. This helps the flow in the river for a few hours a day, but it is not clear that this will be enough for the operators to make it through the summer tourist season, says Almog.

Rafi Noi, who heads the Galilee Water Association that manages the division of water to farmers, says that in September, when the flow from Dan Springs makes a further seasonal drop, there will probably not be enough water left to supply the two cubic meters a second the farmers are supposed to release.
The water shortage also causes damage to crops. The plunge in the water level has led to increased salinity of the water used for irrigation.  

Officials from the Jordan Valley Regional Council told the tour participants about the effects of the salinity on crops. The soil near the lake is particularly sensitive to salt and this has begun to damage the banana farms, the most important crop in the region.

The main feature of the new water-use plan for the region is to stop pumping water from a large number of spots along the river or from springs. Instead, only a few central pumping stations will be allowed where irrigation water will be collected – after flowing through the streams first and serving the recreational sites along the way.

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