Israel Mulls Reversing Water Flow Into Shrinking Sea of Galilee

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A bather in Lake Kinneret, September 2016. In the background is an island created as a result of the low water level.
A bather in Lake Kinneret, September 2016. In the background is an island created as a result of the low water level.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Water Authority may set up a system to bring water from the central areas to Lake Kinneret, reversing the direction of the national carrier, which channels water from the lake to the center and the Negev. The reason is the ongoing trend of low precipitation in the Kinneret basin, which has seriously reduced the quantity of water in the lake.

The plans to bring water to the Kinneret were presented yesterday during the first meeting of the Public Water Forum, held at Tel Aviv University. The meeting was attended by current and former senior Water Authority officials, scientists and engineers, water company managers from the north and representatives of environmental groups.

The Water Authority’s planner in the north, Ehud Kitai, noted that to deal with the crisis in the Kinneret region, the Water Authority had begun to examine various plans for streaming water from the national water system into the lake. Suggestions include the “reverse” pipeline, which, if there are a number of dry years, could channel some 100 million cubic meters of water into the lake annually, raising its level by around 70 centimeters. This water would be obtained from the desalination plants along the coast, which can produce 580 million cubic meters of water annually.

The water shortage in the Kinneret basin has become increasingly severe in recent years. During the past three years the amount of water added to the Kinneret (taking into account what evaporates from it) has been considerably less than the multiyear average. Two years ago a negative record was set, when the water that evaporated from the lake was greater than what had fallen or was streamed into it.

To prevent too sharp a drop in the lake’s water level, pumping from the lake into the National Water Carrier has been drastically reduced. “This year a total of 25 million cubic meters will be pumped, compared to an average annual amount of 230 million,” said Tammy Shor, who is responsible for regulation at the Water Authority. “The reason water is being pumped from the lake at all is to maintain the [national] carrier and to continue operations at Mekorot’s central filtering facility, which we will need in the future.”

Amir Givati of the Water Authority said that precipitation in the Kinneret region is likely to continue to drop due to climatic change. “The region isn’t what it once was,” he said.

One challenge facing water officials is how to provide 50 million cubic meters of water Israel is meant to supply to Jordan annually under the most recent bilateral water agreement.

To make water available to all sectors of the economy, farmers in the Jordan Valley region have started to pump water from the Jordan River at night, to allow the water to flow freely during the day so that tourism activities, like kayaking, can continue. The Water Authority has also reduced farmers’ water consumption in the Upper Jordan region, the primary source of the Kinneret’s water.

“The farmers asked to be allotted an additional 40 million cubic meters,” said Givati. “We told them it wasn’t going to happen. “There isn’t enough water to meet all the needs and requests.”

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