Water flows from Lake Kinneret to Jordan River

Project signals plan to rehabilitate polluted waterway; environmental group says annual replenishment of 30 million cubic meters not enough.

By
May 26, 2013 23:37
The Jordan River

Jordan River bridge 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Water from Lake Kinneret began to flow on Sunday afternoon into the Jordan River, signaling the onset of a comprehensive government plan to rehabilitate the polluted and diminished river.

The project will enable the discharge of approximately 1,000 cubic meters of water per hour, with the ultimate goal of replenishing the Jordan with 30 million cubic meters per year. At the same time, sewage and brackish water will be removed from the riverbed and treated, according to the Water Authority, which is overseeing the project in conjunction with many other organizations and government bodies.

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Since the establishment of the Deganya Dam in 1964, water has not been proactively released from the Kinneret basin into the Lower Jordan River, the Water Authority stressed.

“Israeli water has recovered from a major crisis that befell us for the past eight years,” Water Authority Commissioner Alexander Kushnir said.

“We have established a system of desalination plants, water purification and waste  water reuse facilities, along with optimizing the use and conservation of citizens – which has enabled the Water Authority to significantly increase the amount of water allocated to nature, along with the ever-increasing restoration of natural water resources.”

With funds coming from all of the authorities involved with the project, the overhaul of the contaminated river aims to restore the ecology and thereby develop tourism in the region, the Water Authority explained.

The other organizations and bodies participating in the cleanup that came together as the Jordan Rehabilitation Administration in 2009 under the Lower Jordan River Drainage Authority and including the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Emek Hamayanot Regional Council and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

A primary goal of the project involves replacing the polluted water in three separate transports – a sewage water transport, a high salinity brackish water transport and a low salinity water transport, the Water Authority said. After wastewater from Tiberias and from the Jordan Valley are treated, all resultant water will be allocated for agricultural purposes and will not be returned to the river.

Meanwhile, some of the saline water will also be made useable by means of desalination processes.

Water from the Tiberias hot springs and other salty wells will be separated from the water transfer conduit and will instead be used for fish breeding in southern Emek Hamayanot, the Water Authority said. The remainder of the desalinated salty water and between 17 and 20 million cubic meters of water from the Kinneret will flow into the Jordan River, totaling about 30 million cubic meters per year. The flow will gradually increase to the program’s full intended quantity within two years, the Water Authority added.

“The return of flow from the Kinneret to the Jordan is another symbolic but important step in the restoration of Israel’s natural systems,” Israel Nature and Parks Authority director-general Shaul Goldstein said. “The successful cooperation among the authorities plus the development of desalination technologies brings changes that will benefit nature.”

Shimon Ben-Hamo, CEO of the Mekorot national water company, praised the “revolution to the water sector” that has occurred in recent years, particularly the entrance of desalination into the market – which has in turn reduced the necessity of pumping the nation’s aquifers.

Rehabilitating the Jordan River means restoring an asset that will enable Israel to attract visitors from all over the world, according to Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.

“The rehabilitation of the Jordan is a direct continuation of projects like the restoration of the Kishon or the restoration of other rivers that have been transformed from neglected backyards into places of recreation and leisure for residents,” Peretz said.

Although in principal in favor of recharging the Jordan River with a clean and reliable water supply, regional environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East has repeatedly said that the 30 million cubic meter quantity will not be sufficient for the Lower Jordan’s needs.

Overall, between 400 and 600 million cubic meters of water is necessary to replenish the river’s supplies, and Israel should be providing at least 220 million cubic meters of that amount, according to Friends of the Earth reports.

Jordan should be responsible for 90 million cubic meters while Syria should be responsible for 100 million cubic meters, they added.

Saad Abu Hammour, head of the Jordan Valley Authority on the Jordanian side of the river, has praised the Israeli project and has said that the Jordanian team is working together with the Israeli team.

“On the one hand we want to congratulate where congratulations is required,” said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East. “We welcome this historic first effort and this culminates almost a decade of campaigning and educating for the rehabilitation of the Jordan.”

When Friends of the Earth first began advocating for a river restoration using Kinneret waters, previous water officials had said that such an effort would be entirely impossible, Bromberg explained.

“That said, our concern is not only that this is not anywhere near the 220 million cubic meters that we have identified is necessary – our concern relates to the process,” Bromberg said.

The master planning process led by the Lower Jordan River Drainage Authority has not involved an independent, expert hydrological table analysis of the Jordan River before determining the restoration quantities necessary, Bromberg argued. Only once such an analysis occurs should the drainage authority be negotiating with the Water Authority about precise amounts, he added.

“At the moment the Water Authority is deciding how much it thinks it can provide without any independent analysis being done as to what is needed to rehabilitate the river,” Bromberg said.

“We cannot accept the process that is currently moving forward because it is moving forward in a non-transparent manner that prevents public debate, which is actually needed for the ecological rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan.”


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