Israel is bordered on the east and west by bodies of water. On the west, the Mediterranean laps at miles and miles of beautiful beaches. On the eastern side, coming from the north, the Jordan empties into the Sea of Galilee before continuing to the Dead Sea. From the south, the Arava Stream meanders from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea before it, too, empties into the lowest place on earth. Yet, much of Israel’s history has been plagued with managing the water resources it has, because the Mediterranean and Dead Sea are salty and unfit for human use.
This has left the Sea of Galilee as the most important fresh water source in Israel. In order to transport this water to the growing cities and towns on the Mediterranean coast and farther south, Israel built the National Water Carrier, a huge public works project, in the 1960’s. As a result of all this pumping, however, a long-term drought, and the growing need for water, the water level in the Sea of Galilee has dropped, sometimes drastically, and cannot keep up with the demands of modern Israel.
Today, technology is working to reverse the process in an innovative water storage project – a water “bank”.
Because of increased demand and drought depleting natural sources, Israel used new technology and built the first desalination plant in 2005. Today, 70% of Israel’s drinking water, 600 million cubic meters, comes from 5 coastal desalination plants. In addition, 87% of the country’s wastewater is recycled, providing 50% of the agricultural needs for water, about 400 million cubic meters. Together, these sources provide half of Israel’s overall water for domestic, agricultural and industrial needs.
During 2001 – 2002, Israel used 513 million cubic meters from the Sea of Galilee for all uses. Today, only 25 million cubic meters are pumped from there, which should lead to a healthy water balance in the lake. However, extreme drought during the last 2 decades have caused the lake levels to be about the same (before this winter) to what they were 20 years ago. Climate change has led to receiving 30% less rain than in previous decades and the trend is expected to continue.
How do we save the Sea of Galilee and provide water in the bank? There is a new plan in the works to reverse the National Water Carrier and provide water to the Sea of Galilee from desalination plants on the Mediterranean Sea. At a cost of $277 million, new pumping stations and pipes will connect desalination plans on the coast to the Sea of Galilee.
During the summer months, when demand for water is highest, water can be taken, as usual, from the Sea of Galilee along with from other sources. During the winter, however, when desalination production exceeds needs, instead of stopping to desalinate, the excess water will be channeled to the Sea of Galilee, using the lake as a fresh water reservoir.
Water security comes as a price. Desalinated water costs about $0.55 to produce while water from the Sea of Galilee only costs $0.08 to treat. The security from having water is a cost Israel is prepared to pay. In Amman, Jordan, extreme drought combined with a burgeoning population with the influx of Syrian refugees has led to severe water shortages, with water only being provided by the municipality 1 day a week. Technologies developed in Israel could be used throughout the region to provide for better quality of life and increased stability. You can bank on it!