Unless urgent action is taken, large sections of the Lower Jordan River, which runs from Lake Kinneret to the Dead Sea, will dry out next year, according to a study released on Sunday by EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).
The NGO ran tests over a year to determine how much water would be needed to rehabilitate the river and damage had been caused by the lack of water in it. Israel, Jordan and Syria divert 98 percent of the flow for their respective country’s use.
In the 19th and early 20th century, 1.3 billion cubic meters of water cascaded each year down rapids and rolled over waterfalls on the way down to the lowest point on Earth – the Dead Sea.
In 2009, just 20 m.cu.m. to 30 m.cu.m of water pooled and sluggishly flowed through the river’s channels – all of it sewage. Sewage runs from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan into the river. However, two new sewage treatment plants, one in the Beit She’an area and the other in the Jordan Valley Regional Council area, are set to begin operating over the next year and a half.
While FoEME praised the construction of the two plants, it warned that unless fresh water replaced the amounts of sewage water that would be removed, the once mighty Lower Jordan River would become a cracked and dry riverbed through much of its 100-km. length.
FoEME’s studies looked at how much water would be needed to totally rehabilitate the river, and an accompanying economic analysis recommended ways to free up the necessary amount.
The lack of fresh water has also destroyed much of the ecosystem both within and next to the river, the study found. Fifty percent of macro-invertebrates have disappeared because the river no longer flows swiftly and is highly saline. Examples of macro-invertebrates include flatworms, crayfish, snails, clams and insects.
Otters have disappeared from the Jordan and the willow trees that once lined its shores have all disappeared, FoEME Israel Director Gidon Bromberg said during a media tour of the river on Sunday.
FoEME determined that 400 m.cu.m. of water each year would be needed to rehabilitate the river, gradually rising to 600 m.cu.m.
In addition, the river would have to flood once a year to rehabilitate the shores. The river has not flooded since the winter of 1991-92, Bromberg said.
So where would that much water come from?
According to FoEME’s economic study, Israel would contribute 220 m.cu.m., Syria 100 m.cu.m. and Jordan 90 m.cu.m.. Each country has dammed the river or its tributaries and diverted it for use. Seventy-five percent of the water would have to be fresh water and the rest highly treated sewage water to preserve the saline balance.
An accompanying study pointed to potential water conservation methods cheaper than the $0.57 it takes to desalinate a cubic meter of sea water. As much as 517 m.cu.m. in Israel, 359 m.cu.m. in Jordan and 108.5 m.cu.m. in the PA could be conserved, the study’s authors contended.
Looking at both the supply and demand side, the three authors – one Israeli, one Palestinian and one Jordanian – suggested measures for Israel to take, like fixing leaky pipes, covering reservoirs to prevent evaporation, raising awareness, changing plants in gardens and using grey water (wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing and bathing).
For Jordan and the PA, wastewater reclamation was the key to conserving fresh water. Jordan should also reduce water conveyance loss, reform gardening and raise awareness.
Letting loose 400 m.cu.m. to 600 m.cu.m. of water each year would also go a long way toward saving the Dead Sea, FoEME noted.
The Israel Water Authority was not available for comment by press time.
However, under current policies, returning 220 m.cu.m. to the Jordan
River would be highly unlikely. Right now, 10 m.cu.m. is allocated as
water for nature for all of Israel’s streams. To put 220 m.cu.m. into
the Jordan would mean using 20 times that. Moreover, any extra water
that is generated by improving infrastructure and conservation would
more likely be dumped back into Lake Kinneret to save it from
irreparable ecological damage as it nears the black line, rather than
run down the Jordan River into the Dead Sea.
However, the Environmental Protection Ministry apparently submitted a
plan to rehabilitate the river in February, according to FoEME’s
report. A copy of that plan could not be located by press time.