In Reversal, Israel Might Pump Water North From Sea of Galilee

The lake is famous in part for sending water south, and critics say the new plan would damage the environment

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Lake Kinneret, 2020. Opponents say the proposal is too expensive and will damage the environment.
Lake Kinneret, 2020. Opponents say the proposal is too expensive and will damage the environment.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Water Authority Council is scheduled to discuss a plan next month to increase the water supply to areas north of the Kinneret by pumping water from the lake, a proposal that opponents say is too expensive and will damage the environment.

Both the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Mekorot water company say it would make more sense to stream water to the north directly from the national water grid without pumping from the lake.

Over the past two years, the government has been preparing to stream water into Lake Kinneret – the Sea of Galilee – via a system west to east, thus opposite the direction of the famed National Water Carrier, which sends water from the Kinneret west and then south.

Lake Kinneret in 2020. The water to be pumped from the lake is saltier than the water in the national system.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The new system would allow the flow of large quantities of mostly desalinated water through the Tzalmon Stream into the Kinneret, boosting the lake even during dry years.

This method has been developed on the assumption that precipitation will slacken in the north due to climate change. It will allow for Lake Kinneret’s water to be replaced over time, crucial for maintaining water quality.

After that plan was approved, the cabinet also decided to increase the water supply to places not connected to the national system, particularly the Kinneret Heights area, which includes the Upper Galilee communities north of the lake.

Lake Kinneret at sunset, 2020. Both alternatives would require new pumping installations and the enlargement of reservoirs.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The Water Authority considered a few alternatives for boosting supply to these areas, and for the Kinneret Heights it opted to pump water from the lake and send it to a reservoir in the Hula Valley. That water and water from natural sources would supply consumers in the region with around 20 million cubic meters of water annually.

While the lake will be supplemented via the Tzalmon Stream, it will also provide water to the Upper Galilee, which will further replace the water in the lake. The plan is now undergoing an engineering review before the next council meeting, at which it is slated for approval.

But the Society for the Protection of Nature believes the plan will harm the environment. The water to be pumped from the lake is saltier than the water in the national system, which is either desalinated or from natural sources like streams. This water would therefore be likely to damage crops or groundwater.

A Heron bathing in Lake Kinneret, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The nature group thus advises that water be streamed north directly from the new line that would reach the Tzalmon Stream, bringing the water to the Hula Valley and northward, rather than from the lake. This direct streaming would free up water from natural sources vital to the Kinneret tributaries and the local ecology, while still helping replace the water in the lake. Both alternatives would require new pumping installations and the enlargement of reservoirs.

Mekorot, meanwhile, says that streaming water northward from the Kinneret would be more expensive and thus raise the price of water to farmers in the region. The company adds that the saltier water from the lake could damage crops, while the water pumped from the Kinneret would provide a negligible addition to the exchange of water the lake needs.

“As the national water company, Mekorot implements as required the decisions by the Water Council and the regulator, which is the Water Authority,” the company said. “In our opinion, given the latest data presented to us, it would be proper to allow the flow of natural water north of the Kinneret and carry the water from the national system to north of the Kinneret, out of consideration for the farmers and the water tariff they are paying, and the protection of water and natural resources in the region.”

But the Water Authority says the alternative it’s proposing is more reliable in terms of supply capability, since the water from the national system must serve other regions, and fulfilling those needs could come at the expense of streaming to the Kinneret Heights region.

Regarding the salinity, the authority says the plan is to keep the Kinneret’s level high, thus the salinity will be lower, and in any case any water pumped for irrigation will be mixed with water from natural sources. The authority adds that the cost of pumping from the lake is the same as the cost of the other proposal.

“The authority is promoting the decision by the authority council to connect the Kinneret Heights,” the authority said. “The alternative of connecting to the Kinneret will be the most efficient solution for water consumers in the area, while it is also the best solution for the ecological rehabilitation of the Kinneret and preserving it as a lake that will remain a source of drinking water. As a result, the Kinneret will remain a strategic reserve for Israel.”

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