National Water Project Faces Changes: Inside the Efforts to Refill Israel's Dwindling Lake Kinneret

A new pipeline will hopefully provide a solution for years when the water levels in the Sea of Galilee go down

Mekorot work-site.  The pastoral silence of the reservoir for its various facilities replaced a frantic activity of dozens of workers and engineers, Netofa Valley, February 2020.
Mekorot work-site. The pastoral silence of the reservoir for its various facilities replaced a frantic activity of dozens of workers and engineers, Netofa Valley, February 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The main reservoir along the National Water Carrier, in Galilee’s Beit Netofa Valley, is in the midst of a major transformation. A large new pipeline was added to this famous conduit, which for decades served as a lifeline carrying water from Lake Kinneret to the rest of the country. It will operate in reverse, bringing water from central Israel to the lake and, if necessary, also to the Hula Valley.

Years pf consecutive drought from 2014-17 led the Israel Water Authority two years ago to order the construction of a system to introduce desalinated water, mainly from the plant in Hadera, into Lake Kinneret as needed. The water level of the lake did rise this winter, to less than a meter below the maximum, but there are well-founded concerns that prolonged periods of drought lie ahead. There is also an expected increase in the amount of water Israel transfers from Lake Kinneret to Jordan, based on agreements between the two countries.

The purpose of the “reverse carrier” is to provide a solution for years in which the lake’s water level approaches the lower “red line.” Authorities mainly plan to introduce water into the lake during the winter, when the overall demand for water is lower and surpluses at desalination plants can be used for this purpose. The effects of these supplements will be felt during the summer as well. Now that the first part of the project has been completed, which saw the new pipeline reach Route 65, west of the lake, one may consider the progress of this venture.

Pastoral silence around the various facilities at the Beit Netofa reservoir has been replaced by the frenzied activity of dozens of workers and engineers installing pumping and control facilities. They are employed by EMS Mekorot Projects, a subsidiary of the national Mekorot Water Co. From the reservoir, a large pipe, 1.64 meters in diameter, heads toward Lake Kinneret, sitting parallel to the existing National Water Carrier. It begins above ground before diving beneath the surface.

A water sources in the Dalton industrial area. The water will flow through the channel of the Tzalmon River directly into the Sea of ​​Galilee. Fabruary, 2020.
A water sources in the Dalton industrial area. The water will flow through the channel of the Tzalmon River directly into the Sea of ​​Galilee. Fabruary, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

“The facility in Hadera will channel 50 million cubic meters of water a year to this reservoir,” says the company’s northern unit manager, Michael Kalyishuk. The amount can be doubled in the future if necessary, raising the lake’s level 70 centimeters .

The new pipeline only reaches Route 65. After an additional section is laid under the road, water will flow directly from the Tzalmon Stream to the Kinneret. “Planning and executing the next phase should take three years,” says Klitchuk. “It will include erecting pumping stations and connections to other pipelines so that the water can also be used by communities in the area.”

Water pipes at the Eshkol Reservoir, Israel, February 2020.
Water pipes at the Eshkol Reservoir, Israel, February 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

One reason for the long duration of the project are the multiple challenges posed by setting up the system in areas that are not adjacent to the existing pipeline. For example, the rich vegetation in the area required creating a new roadway through which the pipeline could be laid.

“There is also a nature reserve in the area” says Amit Lang, the CEO of EMS Mekorot Projects. “This necessitated working in a manner that does not harm the reserve, as well as rehabilitating some areas that were damaged by laying down the pipe.” A nearby grove of trees bears the scars left by this work, gradually being covered over with the abundant vegetation that resulted from this year’s rainy winter.

The Israel Water Authority’s original plan had the water passing through Arbel Stream on its way to the lake, but the Israel Nature and Parks Authority opposed this plan since it involved a reserve that was unsuitable for such large quantities of water. The plan was thus rerouted through the Tzalmon Stream.

“The Ravid Spring used to discharge millions of cubic meters into this stream” says Nissim Keshet, a hydrologist with the parks agency. He said the water authority agreed that in addition to channeling water through the new pipeline mainly during the winter, a new pipeline would be available this spring, providing it with sufficient water for its rehabilitation. “Tzalmon Stream will undoubtedly undergo a change after so much water comes through,” adds Keshet.

Worksite at Eshkol Reservoir, Israel, February, 2020.
Workers at Eshkol Reservoir, Israel, February, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Along with raising water levels in the lake, the water in the new pipeline might also be used in the future to supplement irrigation in the Hula Valley. The water agency’s priority, however, is to increase the level of the lake to safeguard the water quality. Future disagreements over allocations between farmers and the lake are anticipated.

In a bid to increase available water and forestall such arguments, EMS Mekorot Projects is also involved in seeding clouds in order to increase rainfall in the Kinneret basin.

The reverse carrier is still a few years from completion, but pressure on the lake is expected to increase in the near future due to rising water demand south of the Kinneret. With that in mind, EMS Mekorot Projects is working on a pipeline that will increase the flow from the lake to Jordan, from 55 million cubic meters a year to 100 million cubic meters a year.

The Sea of ​​Galilee, this month. The Sea of ​​Galilee has improved, but there is a well-established concern that in the future the periods of drought in the area will increase. February, 2020.
The Sea of ​​Galilee, this month. The Sea of ​​Galilee has improved, but there is a well-established concern that in the future the periods of drought in the area will increase. February, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Conservationists and local residents argued in the past that this should flow through the Jordan River in order to rehabilitate the river, but Mekorot decided a pipeline was preferred for security reasons. Jordan will soon receive this additional water, which it urgently needs.

One can only wonder what the planners and builders of the National Water Carrier would say upon learning that it is no longer required for fulfilling its main mission, with water soon to flow in the opposite direction. They couldn’t have envisaged a desalination system that would change the priorities of water flow. This network will grow in the coming years, according to a cabinet resolution, with the composition of the water supply in Israel continuing to change.

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