‘Kinneret likely to reach black line by summer’

National water company submit emergency plan that would generate another 100 million cubic meters by 2014.

December 9, 2010 01:46
4 minute read.
‘Kinneret likely to reach black line by summer’

kinneret. (photo credit: Jonathan Beck)

Lake Kinneret and the other natural water sources are likely to reach their black lines this summer, according to the latest Mekorot projections, the company’s chief hydrologist told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Dipping below the black line vastly increases the chances that the natural reservoirs will incur irreversible damage.

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Dr. Josef Guttman said that in all likelihood, parts of some of the aquifers would become saline when the fresh water level dropped low enough to mix with the salt water. While extremely undesirable, the damage would be reversible over time, he said.

“We are managing a water system in extreme crisis. The situation is very serious, but it’s under control,” Guttman declared.

The Israel Hydrological Service provides monthly updates and Mekorot does forecasting as well, he said. The latest projections show that even if 55 percent of the expected average rainfall arrives this winter, Lake Kinneret would reach the black line by August.

This winter has been extremely dry so far – in fact, the last serious rain was in February, according to Guttman. The last six years have yielded such meager rainfall that the Kinneret and the aquifers have had no chance to refill to acceptable levels.

No large desalination plants will be ready to add their output to the supply in 2011, Guttman pointed out. Instead, Mekorot has proposed an emergency plan based on drilling wells, desalinating brackish water and treating more sewage water that will add 108 million cubic meters of potable water by 2014.

In addition, it will adopt a very careful and cautious strategy to govern its pumping, Guttman said.

Mekorot has brought its plan to the National Infrastructures Ministry and the Water Authority and is awaiting their approval before beginning. The cabinet was supposed to approve an emergency water plan on Sunday, but the Carmel fire pushed the vote on the proposal off the agenda. The water plan will be discussed this coming Sunday instead.

Over the next two years, Mekorot will drill 35 wells in the North to tap into water sources that don’t feed into the aquifers. Those wells are expected to add 24 m.cu.m over the next two years, the company said. In 2013 and 2014, 30 additional wells are planned that would provide an additional 20 m.cu.m.

Mekorot has also proposed building three smaller desalination plants to desalinate brackish water. Brackish water is more saline than drinking water but not as saline as sea water, Guttman explained. The three plants would desalinate brackish water found in the coastal aquifer to produce another 60 m.cu.m. by 2014. Desalinating brackish water would have the added benefit of cleaning up the aquifer.

Wastewater treatment plants in the Kishon network would produce 24 m.cu.m. annually by 2014, thus freeing up an equivalent amount of fresh water, according to the plan. Treated wastewater is used by agriculture for irrigation in place of fresh water.

Guttman said Mekorot would also have to stop pumping in more sensitive areas and increase pumping in less sensitive ones.

“There are regions that are more likely to become saline, like the western part of the mountain aquifer [which runs under the West Bank] or the area around Pardess Hanna. So we’ll cut back there and pump more in the Center and around Beit Shemesh,” he told the Post. Similarly, there will be less pumping in the Western Galilee and around Shfaram.

Asked whether it was likely that Mekorot would at any point over the next year stop pumping from Lake Kinneret altogether, Guttman emphatically rejected the notion.

“In 2001, then-water commissioner Shimon Tal created a stop-pumping black line for Lake Kinneret that is below the current black line. Our projections don’t forecast reaching that level,” Guttman said.

This would not be the first time that Mekorot has employed “strategic pumping.” In the winter of 1998-99, a similar strategy was employed, the chief hydrologist said. The strategy has also been partly in place in recent years because of the continuing drought.

While the weather forecasts are no more optimistic, there is light at the end of the tunnel, those in charge of the water economy believe. By 2013, the large desalination plants will be producing a total of 600 m.cu.m. of fresh water a year. With that man-made addition, Israel will no longer be at the mercy of however much rain falls from the sky.

That should allow the situation to eventually stabilize, officials believe, although the water deficit the country is running right now – the amount of fresh water needed to bring levels up to where the experts would like – is between 1.5 billion and 2 billion cubic meters, so it will still be a while before Israel is out of the woods.

Even then, the Middle East is drying out because of climate change, and water should always be treated as a scarce commodity, the National Investigation Committee Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel concluded in its final report earlier this year.

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