Salinity of Israel's Sea of Galilee Reaches Highest Level in 50 Years

Low water level damages reproduction of fish, considered vital for protection of water quality.

Israel's Lake Kinneret.
Gil Eliahu

The salinity of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is at its highest in 50 years and the low water level is damaging the reproduction of fish considered vital for the protection of water quality, the Water Authority says.

The level of the lake on Wednesday was 13 centimeters below the lower red line, which marks the lowest level at which water can be safely pumped from the lake without endangering the pumps. The volume of water missing from the lake is at its greatest in a century. One of the results of this situation is the rise in salinity – to 298 milligrams of chloride per liter.

The natural salinity of the lake was once about 350 milligrams of chloride per liter, which made it difficult to use the water for irrigation. A special water channel was built in 1967 to divert the saline springs away from the lake. By 1969 the salinity had dropped to 300 milligrams per liter. Experts say that the current level of salinity will continue to rise until the next rainy season, reaching 320 milligrams per liter.

The decline in the water level means that the shallows, which are important egg-laying sites for fish, have retreated. St. Peter’s fish, for example, one of the most important fish for maintaining the health of the Kinneret ecosystem, had been gradually coming back since the last time the lake fell to unprecedented levels, in 2008. But since last year, the number of St. Peter’s fish has been falling.

The importance of St. Peter’s fish in protecting Lake Kinneret’s water quality has led the Water Authority to fund a project to stock the lake with young St. Peter’s fish every year. Over-drilling for water near the lake, to meet growing needs for agriculture, could make the situation worse yet. Some Water Authority experts say such drilling does not affect springs in streams that flow into the Kinneret. But others contend that the drilling further reduces the amount of water to the lake.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel called on the Water Authority this week to urgently address the growing water crisis in Lake Kinneret by building a desalination plant in the Western Galilee to reduce dependence on the water of the Kinneret and the streams flowing into it. The SPNI also called for a halt to plans to expand agriculture in the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee as long as there are no alternate water supplies, as well as to allow water to flow to nature sites and for pumping for agriculture to take place farther downstream, to ensure the survival of the many tourist sites in the region even during a long, dry period.