View of Lake Kinneret from Road 789.
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
As the water level of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) continues to drop, the basin is becoming an increasingly risky place to swim.
This is not due to the unseasonably strong easterly winds over Passover that swept away some 80 swimmers Wednesday who had to be rescued, nor the three young men whose air mattresses were swept out to deep water whom rescuers were still searching for on Thursday.
While Wednesday’s strong winds did make swimming riskier, Lake Kinneret has been gradually becoming more dangerous due to its deceptively shallow depths caused by years of drought, according to a Water Authority expert.
“People went very far from the shore,” Dr. Amir Givati, head of the surface water department at the Water Authority’s Hydrological Services, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Then they got really, really far away.”
“The shape of the lake makes it get deep really fast,” he added. “You’re very far from the shore and it’s very hard to come back.”
With drought conditions drying up northern Israel for four years in a row, the Kinneret’s water level has fallen dangerously low, to 212.965 meters below sea level on Sunday just before Passover, according to Water Authority data. This alarming measurement falls just above the authority’s “lower red line” alert value of 213 meters below sea level.
Because the water level has depleted so drastically, people now have to walk dozens of meters into the lake before reaching a place where they can no longer stand, Givati explained. At that point, however, the lake becomes deep very quickly, he said. Coupled with the strong easterly winds on Wednesday, these conditions were a recipe for disaster.
“Until the Sea of Galilee gets to its normal level, it will be a dangerous situation,” Givati said. “People think that all across the lake, the water level is low, without taking into account that after 10 to 100 meters there is a sharp falloff and it gets really deep because of the shape.”
Givati stressed the importance of ensuring that the lake’s shores have proper signage, warning bathers to be aware of the conditions, particularly when there are strong easterly winds.
Asked what the Water Authority plans to do to improve Lake Kinneret’s situation, Givati said that already water is no longer being pumped from the lake to the National Water Carrier.
In the long-term, he said that he and his colleagues are also promoting a plan to reduce the use of water from the Upper Jordan River – which comes from the Kinneret – in the region’s farms. Doing so would require pumping water to the region from a new desalination facility, which could be constructed in about five to 10 years’ time, Givati explained.
“Because of climate change, this situation is going to repeat itself,” he said. “For the coming years, we have no solution – just praying for more rain.”
As the country heads toward summer vacations and making plans to swim in the Kinneret, Givati had a few words of warning.
“Be careful; try to listen,” he said. “Be aware that, although the water level is really low close to the coast, after a few dozen meters it gets very deep.”
Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.