Israel to Greenlight Jordan River Facelift to Cut Pollution

The plan approved last year by Israel's Water Authority Council will direct water for farming through to the southern Jordan River

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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The southern Jordan River. Friends of the Earth reports a 98 percent reduction in flow.
The southern Jordan River. Friends of the Earth reports a 98 percent reduction in flow.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The government is expected on Sunday to approve a plan to restore the southern part of the Jordan River, between the Kinneret and the Naharayim site, in what will be the most significant river restoration since the plan to rehabilitate the Yarkon River was approved 20 years ago. Under the new plan, flow from the lake to the river will increase four-fold and the dumping of sewage and other pollutants into the river will cease.

The southern Jordan River once saw an annual water flow of 700 million cubic meters, but today has a flow of only 30 million, which includes purified sewage from nearby localities. In addition, the river is fed with extremely saline water, which is diverted from springs near the lake and carried in canals to the river, part of a project known as the “Salty Movil’ (after the “Hamovil Ha’artzi” which once supplied water from the Kinneret to most of the country). In fact, only a third of the flow in the southern Jordan River comes from water originating in the Kinneret, which leads to pollution of the river and severe harm to its ecosystem.

The decision to restore the Jordan, led by the Environmental Protection Ministry, adopts the plan approved last year by the Water Authority Council, to direct water for farming in the Beit She’an area through the southern Jordan, thus achieving two goals: Both the strengthening of Beit She’an-area farming with water, and restoration of the southern Jordan River. According to the plan, Kinneret water will be directed into the river at a volume not to fall below 40 million cubic meters per year. The water will be pumped out near the Naharayim site for farming in the Beit She’an Valley area, and an additional 10 million cubic meters will be diverted into the southern Jordan River from the Valley of Springs (“Emek Ha’maayanot”).

Concurrently, works are to be completed that will enable the cessation of flowing polluted or saline water into the river, using them for agricultural purposes instead. Treated waste water, now directed into the southern Jordan from a plant named Bitanya, will be mixed with the waters of the “Salty Movil,” which will be desalinated next to the Bitanya facility. The mixed water will then be used for local farming as well. The work to remove the wastewater from the river and direct Kinneret water in their stead is to be completed by 2025.

The Environmental Protection Ministry, the Kinneret Drainage Authority and the open spaces fund at the Israel Land Authority will also act together to restore the springs and vegetation along the banks. The local farming activity will also change, to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Instead, steps will be taken to encourage the nesting of barn owls and falcons, which prey on rodents that harm crops.

These government actions are made possible in part due to progress in the construction of desalinization facilities in Israel. Along with the five facilities already in operation, two new large facilities are to be added in the next few years, one to operate in the western Galilee, between Nahariya and Acre, and the other south of Rishon Lezion. These facilities will ensure a steady water flow to the southern Jordan even in less rainy years.

The plan will improve conditions on the southern Jordan River, but it will remain a river with a miniscule water flow compared to what it had in the past. South of Naharayim, the river water will remain in poor condition both in quality and quantity. Recently environmental experts and organizations suggested increasing the amount of desalinated water directed into the Kinneret, and thence into the Jordan, to improve its state. Another proposal calls for using treated wastewater from the Jordanian side to be directed into the river. Outgoing director of the Water Authority, Giora Shaham, doubts the economic feasibility of that plan, saying it could cost over a billion shekels a year, “and it’s unclear where that money would come from.”

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