Squabbling Among Water Officials Imperils Jordan River Rehabilitation

Zafrir Rinat
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The southern Jordan river in February
The southern Jordan river in FebruaryCredit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat

The Water Authority Commission is slated to discuss Thursday a proposal that could significantly improve the condition of the Jordan River south of Lake Kinneret. Under the plan, the flow from Lake Kinneret into the Jordan River would be increased, to supply crop irrigation in the Beit She’an Valley. That would make it possible to stop directing water from lower-quality sources into the river.

Challenges to the plan are expected during the meeting, because an alternative plan is being suggested by the Mekorot water company. Under this alternative, the water for farming in the Beit She’an Valley would be piped from the national water carrier, not streamed through the Jordan River. Mekorot has been lobbying commission members to support its proposal.

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Under a cabinet resolution passed three years ago, the water supply to the Golan Heights and the eastern valleys – Beit She’an, Hamaayanot and the Jordan Valley, which are not connected to the national water supply – was to increase. The Water Authority’s plan would stream 40 million cubic meters of water annually from Lake Kinneret (aka Sea of Galilee), via the Alumot dam, through the Jordan River to the Naharayim region. Currently the Kinneret supplies only 10 million to 20 million cubic meters of water to the river.

At Naharayim, water would be pumped for agricultural purposes to the Beit She’an Valley area and to the Jordan Valley. Moreover, treated wastewater will no longer be streamed into the river, nor will brackish water, which is now being streamed into the river from springs near the Kinneret. The brackish water will instead be desalinated and directed by other means to the area, along with the treated wastewater. The Beit She’an Valley and the Jordan Valley will also get water supplied through a pipeline Mekorot will connect to the national water carrier, but in much smaller quantities.

The southern Jordan river in February.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The water of the southern Jordan River is currently not of sufficient quality to rehabilitate the ecological system in the area. Implementing this plan would change this. This plan integrates with a plan by the Jordan Valley and Maayanot Valley regional councils, along with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, to turn the southern Jordan River area into a nature reserve and a small national park.

The Nature and Parks Authority believes this plan will turn the section of the river between the Kinneret and Naharayim from a nuisance to a resource, allowing for optimal preservation of important Christian heritage sites. As for the Water Authority, this plan has another benefit; increasing the flow from the Kinneret will allow for greater water replacement in the lake itself, which contributes to water quality.

The southern Jordan river in February.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Mekorot’s position is that streaming water solely for agricultural purposes through the Jordan River will not solve the water supply problems in the Beit She’an area and the Jordan Valley, and is also more expensive. Supply based on the national carrier, it argues, will also make it possible to provide a solution to drinking water needs in the Beit She’an area and the Jordan Valley – necessary due to a sharp drop in the level of groundwater reservoirs in the Jordan Valley.

The Water Authority alternative has also been criticized by the Finance Ministry, which argues that there are economic and engineering issues involved that had not yet been addressed properly, including clarifications of who would carry out each part of the project. Nevertheless, the Water Authority’s professional evaluation committee approved this alternative for presentation to the authority’s commission.

The Jordan Valley Regional Council said that it “considers the project presented by the Water Authority a significant and necessary part of the ongoing effort to rehabilitate and develop the southern Jordan and turn it from a polluted backyard into one of Israel’s most beautiful parks. Along with removing the brackish carrier water from the Jordan, its desalination and use of it, along with treated wastewater for agriculture, the future of the river will be safeguarded for future generations.”

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