Lakes are drying up everywhere. Israel pumps water from the Med as compensation

But this place of religious pilgrimage – where many of Jesus’ miracles are said to have been performed in the New Testament – faces a dark future. The climate crisis is causing huge fluctuations in lake water levels. Now it’s fairly full, but just five years ago, it hit a record low.

Climate change and unsustainable water management are drying up lakes in the Middle East and beyond, but the Israeli government is hopeful it has a solution: It plans to pump water from the Mediterranean Sea, extract the salt from it and send it across the country to top up the lake when needed.

This is a dramatic change to the Sea of ​​Galilee, known in Hebrew as the Kinneret, which once pumped all of Israel’s drinking water. Water now flows in the opposite direction.

Israel has considerable expertise in desalination. As a water-insecure nation, it has spent more than two decades taking seawater from the Mediterranean and treating it through a process called reverse osmosis, essentially taking the salt out of the water to make it drinkable. It’s a process that other parts of the world, including California, have turned to during droughts, but it’s a daily reality in Israel. Five desalination plants along the coast now provide tap water to the country’s 9.2 million people.

The new project looks a bit short – a 1.6-metre wide water pipe is laid in 31 kilometers – but it is the first of its kind. It takes desalinated water and pumps it through a salmon stream that feeds the lake.

When he first heard about the project, Noam Ben Shoa, chief engineer of Israel’s national water company Mekorot, thought it was a strange idea.

“But soon, we realized its value to the national market,” he told CNN at the construction site for the pipe.

He said it would help develop agriculture in the wider region, as well as ties with neighboring Jordan.

Israel has a long-standing agreement with Jordan to sell ten million cubic meters of water to the kingdom annually. In 2021, the two countries signed a new agreement where Jordan will receive 200 million square meters of desalinated water per year from Israel – about 20% of Jordan’s water needs – in exchange for solar energy to power Israel’s electricity grid. Emirati companies will build 600 solar power plants to generate energy in Jordan.

Within months, the new $264 million pipeline is expected to be operational and able to move 120 million square meters of water a year, but only pump into the lake when needed, Ben Showa said.

“The uniqueness of this project gives us almost infinite flexibility,” he said. “We can basically take the available water … and divert it and transport it to where it’s needed. In population centers, even for agricultural or industrial uses.”

Moving on from crisis

The need to do things radically differently was hammered home during the five-year drought that ended in 2018. Despite the ban on pumping water from the lake, the water level here still reached a record low. But the worsening climate crisis has now forced Israel’s water authority to intervene.

“They looked at future climate change and what’s going to happen [with] The region has seen rainfall, and population growth, and a projected increase in water demand,” Gideon Gall, senior scientist and head of the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory, told CNN. “And they now realize that 30, 40 years later. There will be a serious problem in management [water] levels in the lake and maintaining water quality unless something is done.”

But it was never done before. Even if the salt is removed, the makeup of the water is different in other ways, Gall said.

People bathing in the Sea of ​​Galilee, despite its name, is actually a freshwater lake.

“When you mix desalinated water with natural water, you see an impact on biology in experiments,” Gall said. “We bring things into the lake that don’t exist naturally.”

But Gall says his experiments show that so far, the new water won’t cause a big impact on existing species. In fact, it could help the lake combat the effects of climate change by causing greater water turnover, which would help prevent excessive bacterial growth and help cool water temperatures.

Despite the potential benefits, Gall said, the lake does not need any human intervention.

“But we know about climate change and what we think is going to happen in the lake,” Gall said. “The risk of introducing desalinated water is a risk worth taking.”

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