About 100 Jordan Valley residents held a demonstration on Tuesday to protest a planned pipeline that would convey water from Lake Kinneret to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, claiming that the pipeline will ruin large open areas through which it is slated to pass. Israel is obligated by its bilateral peace agreement to provide water from Lake Kinneret to its neighbor.
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Opponents to the plan want the water to be sent to the Jordanians via the existing Jordan River channel, from the Degania dam to the old Naharayim electric power station, and from there to Jordan. This plan, they say, will cost less, still allow Israel to meet its obligations and also contribute to the rehabilitation of the southern Jordan River.
The purpose of Tuesday’s rally, held in the pouring rain, was to “wake up the sleeping bears and prompt the decision-makers to reconsider and realize that there is a much more logical way to transfer the water,” says Kibbutz Degania Bet resident Ram Hachmon, one of the leaders of the protest. According to Hachmon, the local planning and building committee is to meet soon to discuss the plan with Mekorot, the national water company, and the residents want their alternative to be presented at that meeting.
The residents have also organized a petition, with 500 signatures so far, and launched a Facebook page.
Mekorot said in response that it had submitted an application for construction of the water line along the shortest possible route between the two points. “After examining the alternatives and national, engineering, planning and monetary considerations, the means of transporting the water was approved by the water authority.”
Mekorot also said the line is part of the national master plan on water, has already been discussed by the local planning and building committee “and coordinated with the kibbutzim, in some cases planned at their request.” Mekorot said the line is planned to pass through farmlands of four kibbutzim in the Jordan Valley, and that three of them had already signed the permit. Mekorot is taking part in a plan to rehabilitate the Jordan River that is being advanced by the Water Authority, the company’s statement said.
The Water Authority — the government branch in charge of Israel’s water economy — said that channeling the water to the Hashemite kingdom through the Jordan River channel itself was not feasible, but even if it were, it would cost some 60 million shekels (approximately $15.8 million) more than the existing plan and would take at least two years longer. Conveying the water by pipeline provides better control over quantity and quality, the authority said, adding that the existing plan will not harm the lands through which it passes.
As part of the peace treaty between the two countries, Israel sells Jordan 35 million cubic meters of water a year from Lake Kinneret (at cost price), and Jordan allows some 20 million cubic meters of water from the Yarmouk River to flow into Israel during the winter, with some of it returning to Jordan over the summer.