Israel's Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Facing Threat of Drying Out

Meager rainfall prevents local kibbutz from transferring water as agreed.

Michal Fattal

A decline in the amount of water reaching the Ein Gedi nature reserve near the Dead Sea is endangering the implementation of an agreement between the nature reserve and adjacent Kibbutz Ein Gedi over distribution of water between the two. The situation has created the possibility of the nature reserve drying out.

Under the agreement, signed eight years ago, the kibbutz retained access to the natural springs in the area and used them for the kibbutz mineral water factory, as well as for irrigation and the kibbutz gardens. In return, the kibbutz agreed to help transfer water from nearby streams to the nature reserve.

The primary source of water is the Arugot stream. A system was installed near the stream to drain it and divert the water so that the kibbutz could transfer it to the Ein Gedi stream, which flows into the reserve. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority then used this water to rehabilitate the natural plant life in the area. The authority labeled the cooperation a success, and used it as a basis for further cooperation with other kibbutzim and towns.

In the last two years, however, there has been a drop in the amount of natural water flowing into the Arugot stream due in part to a recent lack of precipitation. As a result, the kibbutz has not managed to transfer the agreed-upon amount of water to the nature reserve, and this has increased concerns that the reserve might dry up, with dire consequences for local plant life.

“There are sharp fluctuations in the amount of water, but the trend is definitely downward,” says Itzik Mazor of Kibbutz Ein Gedi.

“The amount of water collected from the Arugot stream went down drastically, and it’s much smaller than it was when the agreement was signed,” a INPA official said on Wednesday.

On Sunday the two sides are to hold a meeting meant to find a solution for the water crisis in the nature reserve, one of the most important desert reserves in Israel. According to the INPA, one solution being considered is drilling into groundwater wells near the Arugot stream to divert water toward the reserve. At the same time, it is necessary to decide how to divide the current water supply until any plan is implemented.

“Another solution could be connecting the kibbutz to the Mekorot water company’s system,” said Mazor, adding, “it will take longer but it’s possible. The pipeline already reaches the Masada area. The Water Authority simply needs to decide to make it a priority, and then it would be possible to solve the problem.”

The agreement was due in large part to public support and pressure generated by Shoshi Goldberg, an activist who was commended by the Environmental Protection Ministry for her efforts to ensure a continued water supply for the Ein Gedi nature reserve. Following the recent crisis Goldberg said, “When the agreement was signed we were wary that something like this would happen, and it’s a shame that it did. It cannot be that Kibbutz Ein Gedi’s gardens remain green while the reserve, which is vitally important and visited by half a million people every year, is in danger of drying out.”

“We’ve reduced our water consumption in the meantime,” said Mazor in response to Goldberg, adding, ”We’ve dried out some agricultural fields, and the soccer field.”