For a long time, scarcity of water represented one of Israel’s major challenges. As the third decade of the 21st century opened though, this is no longer true, thanks to a rapid advancement in water-related technologies that have been able to turn previously unusable resources – sea and waste waters – into major supplies. Yet, very few in the country have not been rejoicing in the fact that during the past two winters the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) level has been on the rise.
Located in northern Israel, the Kinneret is the lowest fresh-water lake in the world, around 210 meters below sea level. After an abundant rain hit Israel over the last weekend, the Water Authority announced that the level of its waters was only 21 centimeters short of reaching its full capacity, marking a record since 2004.
In the past few months, some water of the Kinneret has been pumped and used in the national water systems, after years that this had not happened due to its shortage. However, as Water Authority Chairman Giora Shacham explained speaking to the Army Radio on Tuesday, this week the usage has been stopped because of a tradition of “some sectors of Israel’s religious population” that considers the water from the Sea of Galilee chametz and therefore not permissible on Passover. This move has made a further increment in the level in the next few days even more likely.
Now the question is whether the Degania Dam will be opened for the first time since 1995, to avoid the lake to reach the upper red line and overflow. Shacham said that it will not necessarily happen, but it is probable in case of another intense precipitation.
The Kinneret is mentioned for the first time in the Bible, in both the books of Numbers and Joshua. According to the Christian tradition, many essential moments of the life of Jesus took place on its shores.
And it is due to its religious and cultural as well as political significance, and not merely because of the hydrogeological implications, that the Kinneret is such a central part of Israel’s life and identity, Hebrew University Professor and Chairman of Israel Institute of Standards' Central Water Committee Avner Adin told The Jerusalem Post.
“As much as there is a lot of advancement in creating models to forecast the weather and rain, nature remains something that is not very exact,” he said. “The latest models elaborated regarding how the climate is changing have predicted that this area of the globe, the Middle East and specifically the north of Israel, Lebanon and Syria would be especially affected. Indeed in the past few years they suffered a lot from droughts.”
However, the professor pointed out that recently the situation seems to have changed.
According to the Water Authority, the level of the Kinneret has risen by 2.875 meters since the beginning of the rainy season this year while last winter a 3.47 increment was registered, after years that have seen the level constantly decreasing.
If the Degania Dam was to be opened, some water would be released into the Jordan River, which has also been gravely suffering from the lack of water.
“The river south of the lake is not a real river anymore, there is no ecosystem. Releasing water into it could be a good thing, allowing some of the nature to revive,” Adin said, adding that even if water from the Kinneret flows into the Jordan, it is unlikely to have any significant effect on the Dead Sea, where the river leads and that is also experiencing a constant shrinking due to evaporation and lack of supply.
However, Adin highlighted that it is very important to look at the water system in Israel as a comprehensive system.
“In the past years there has been a revolution: nowadays, 60% of the drinking water in the country is desalinated and 50% of the water used in agriculture comes from recycled waste waters,” he told the Post.
If this revolution has lifted from the Kinneret a great deal of the burden of supplying fresh water to the nation it would be wrong to think that the lake does not still play an important role.
“The Kinneret is important as a recreational site, it’s central in our culture, it has a great religious significance. A crucial part of the peace treaty agreement with Jordan is Israel’s commitment to supply the country with fresh water from the Kinneret, they are even considering increasing the quantity” he said, also adding that a project to create a desalination plant specifically so that more fresh water can be pumped into the lake and provided to the Galilee is being pursued.
The professor expressed his regret that the current restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak are depriving Israelis of the opportunity to go and see the Kinneret full. He added that he believes that the fact that the Kinneret reached such a high level offers “an opportunity to keep it in good shape.”
“The whole water system needs to be looked at in a holistic way. One aspect depends on the other. The high level of water in the Sea of Galilee can affect the Jordan River and Jordan, as well as tourism. More desalination can mean less stress on natural resources. Politics is also involved when it comes to managing the system. This way the world will be able to look and learn from Israel how to manage water as an integrated system,” he concluded.