Water Shortage in Northern Israel Is Worst in Past 100 Years, New Data Shows

The effects of climate change have arrived sooner than expected, with the Sea of Galilee set to hit warning 'lower red line' by September.

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The water level in the Sea of Galilee is sinking fast.
The water level in the Sea of Galilee is sinking fast. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The water shortage in northern Israel is the worst in 100 years, according to new data from the Water Authority.

The data show that the water level in the Sea of Galilee will probably drop below its red warning line (about 700 feet, or 213 meters, below sea level) in about three months’ time. And if it then falls another five feet and reaches the “black line,” as many predict, this will require a halt to all pumping from the lake.

The Water Authority says the weather events over recent years were forecast many years ago, based on climate change, and one of its effects is a reduction in precipitation in the region. But the size and strength of the change, and the speed in which it happened, was unexpected. Now it’s possible that, in light of the deteriorating situation, all previous forecasts will have to be reevaluated.

This is not just an Israeli concern. The water that reaches Lake Kinneret’s watershed basin is also used by the Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians, with the latter receiving a regular supply of water from Israel. This is pumped from the lake as part of the peace treaty between the two nations.

Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu

“Once, I used to see a lot of streams, a lot of plants, a lot of grass and trees, a much stronger flow,” says Ofer Moskowitz, an amateur photographer from Misgav Am, on the Lebanese border. “To wade in the water, I could walk 20 centimeters.”

Anyone living south of Lake Kinneret may be surprised by this news. That’s because the center and south of the country saw almost average amounts of annual rainfall – and in some places it was even above average. But in the headwaters of the Jordan River, and in particular around the Sea of Galilee’s drainage basin, the situation is very different and much more problematic.

Dr. Amir Givati, of the Water Authority’s Hydrological Service, published an article in the Israel Water Works Association magazine this month: His research showed that only 68 percent of the average annual precipitation fell in the Kinneret region from last winter through May 2016. In Western Galilee, another important region for water resources, rainfall only reached 65 percent of the multiyear average.

Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The past year was not the first in which precipitation in the region was low. In fact, this was the third year in a row, and the effects are being keenly felt since the area doesn’t have a single desalinization plant.

The low amount of precipitation in the north has led to the strength of the flow in the springs around Western Galilee and Lake Kinneret reaching new lows, wrote Givati. The summer of 2014 – a drought year – was previously the worst on record in the north, and the water flow has since reached historic lows.

The cumulative shortage over the past three years is the most serious ever recorded, the Hydrological Service said. (Data started being collected in the 1930s.) The numbers clearly show the effects of the drought: On average, 320 million cubic meters of water enter the Kinneret basin every year. This year, however, only 50 million cubic meters have been reported thus far. As a result, the water level in the Sea of Galilee rose a mere 60 centimeters over the entire winter, compared to an average of 160 centimeters.

Another example can be found when another piece of data is factored into the equation: The pumping of water from the Sea of Galilee to the National Water Carrier was also drastically cut back this year.

Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
Sea of Galilee, June 21, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu

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