As the water level of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) dwindles to a critical low, area residents fear that the Jordan River's flow will idle – sparking dire circumstances for regional tourism, a biblical baptism site and the natural ecosystem.
"From the window of the regional council head's office the drop of the Kinneret water level can be seen each day," Idan Greenbaum, head of the Emek Hayarden Regional Council, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday
The drop is visible to Greenbaum as he sees the amount of beach along the Kinneret shores gradually increasing. On Thursday morning, the water level was 213.09 meters below sea level, just 9 centimeters above the Water Authority's "bottom red line" but still significantly above the even more alarming “black line,” which stands at 214.87 meters below sea level.
With the plunging water level in Lake Kinneret, Greenbaum and his colleagues in the region are concerned that supply of water heading from the basin into the Jordan River, and thereby ensuring the artery's flow, could also decrease.
"I hope that we will never reach the kind of situation in which the flow will completely stop. But we are worried that if the sea level will [drop] a bit lower, then there will be no water for Yardenit," he said, referring to the popular Christian baptismal site.
Uri Schor, the spokesman of the Water Authority, stressed that the flow of water to the Jordan River is in no danger of ceasing, despite the dropping Kinneret levels.
"The last three years were drought years in the North and you see this on the level of the Sea of Galilee,” Schor said. “Nevertheless, the situation is known and being dealt with.”
In order to preserve the Kinneret itself, Schor explained that the smallest quantity of water is being pumped out of the lake this year since the government began measuring the basin’s levels. At the same time, however, the flow to the river is being maintained, he said.
"We are doing everything, and we are continuing the flow in the Jordan River exactly as agreed," Schor added. “Of course we would prefer that there would be rain, but we are not decreasing the quantities. We are continuing as planned."
In addition to expressing concerns about the Jordan River’s flow, Greenbaum sharply criticized plans to construct a new water pipe in the region, a plan promoted by the Water Authority and the Mekorot national water corporation in order to double the quantity of Lake Kinneret water being conveyed from Israel to Jordan. While he is not against increasing the water supply to Jordan – the result of a deal signed last year – Greenbaum objects to the proposed method of doing so.
While work to build the pipeline has not yet begun, he stressed that "we don't want them to start." About a week ago, the regional planning committee issued the necessary permits to do so, he explained.
At the moment, Israel supplies 50 million cubic meters of water each year to Jordan. As part of an agreement signed between the two countries in February 2015, Israel has been tasked with doubling the supply of Kinneret water to Jordan's thirsty north, in exchange for access to a new potable water supply in the south from a future desalination facility in Aqaba. This same agreement calls for piping the residual brine generated at the Aqaba desalination facility to the dwindling Dead Sea.
Because the existing pipeline that conveys water from the Kinneret to Jordan does not have the capacity to handle the increased load, the Mekorot national water company and the Water Authority have plans to construct a new pipeline. However, Jordan Valley Regional Council and Kinneret Drainage and Rivers Authority officials remain steadfastly against this option.
"We are in a war against the Water Authority and Mekorot, but not about the supply of water to Jordan," Greenbaum said. "We think that as neighbors we have a moral obligation to help the Jordanians so that they have enough water. Our problem is with the path toward doing so."
In Greenbaum's opinion, the additional water should be pumped down the Jordan River and then diverted to Israel's neighbor, rather than shuttled through a new pipeline. The increased river flow would not only provide the kingdom with a much needed boost in water supply, but would also "bring the Jordan River back to life – the southern part where there is no life," Greenbaum argued.
"There is not enough water in the Kinneret to give both to the Jordan kingdom and to the Jordan River," he said, advocating a combination of the two goals.
The optimal point for a water diversion to Jordan, according to Greenbaum, would be near Naharayim, an area about 10 kilometers south of the Kinneret, where the Yarmouk River flows into the Jordan River. Naharyim is also the site of the proposed 800-hectare Jordan River Peace Park, a longstanding plan of EcoPeace Middle East to create a park accessible to visitors from both sides of the river without a need for visas.
In a Knesset discussion last summer on the subject, Mekorot chairman Mordechai Mordechai warned that while sending the additional water down the river, it would not be “possible to maintain water quality and the level of natural contaminants."
To this argument, Greenbaum responded that if the State of Israel knows how to generate technology like the Iron Dome, the country “can also find a way to monitor the water that it sends down the Jordan River."
On Thursday, Schor from the Water Authority corroborated Mordechai’s statement, explaining that the agreement with Jordan involves supplying the country with drinking water.
“You cannot bring drinking water in an open river because of pollution, pesticides and failures,” he said, noting that the Health Ministry is against such a move as well.
"The agreement talks about drinking water,” Schor continued. “Therefore, you cannot put it in the river. You must do it through a closed pipe."
Nonetheless, Greenbaum and his colleagues plan to do all that they can in order to stop the construction of such a pipe and see the additional water flowing down the river.
"I think this is the future of the Jordan Valley,” Greenbaum said. “There will be not other future but bringing back the Jordan River life"
"On the day that Mekorot starts working in the area, we will stand there and prevent the work with our bodies," he added.