With the winter of 2012-13 in Israel shaping up to be rainier than the past few years’ parched affairs, the level of the Sea of Galilee, one of the country’s primary sources of water for home and agricultural use, is headed for an almost-20-year high, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.

“This is clearly a much better start [to the winter] than we were expecting,” said Dr. Amir Givati, the head of the Surface Water and Hydrometeorology Department at the Israel Water Authority. “We expected it to be good, but not this good.”

Givati said that the increased precipitation – up to 40 or 50 percent more rain in the North so far than was usual for this time of year – was evident in an increased volume of water flowing through streams and brooks, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported.

“To see the Jordan River flowing at this time of year – that’s a phenomenon that takes place once every 20 years,” he said. “Streams like Ayun and Sa’ar usually begin to run only in the spring, but this year we’re already seeing them gushing. During the last rainy Saturday there were flows of a magnitude [for December] that haven’t been recorded since 1994, and that’s before Saturday, which is also expected to be rainy.”

Israel Water Authority officials were surprised to find that the level of the Sea of Galilee had begun to rise much earlier than usual – as far back as October, the report said. And since October 29, the lake’s level has risen 16 centimeters more, settling, for now, at 212.27 meters below sea level.

The Jordan River flowing near Kibbutz Gadot in the upper Galilee, January 16, 2012. Winter 2013 is shaping up to be even rainier than last winter, according to the Israel Water Authority. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Jordan River flowing near Kibbutz Gadot in the upper Galilee, January 16, 2012. Winter 2013 is shaping up to be even rainier than last winter, according to the Israel Water Authority. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“Our estimate at the beginning of the winter,” Givati said, “was that we were facing an average winter. Today we believe that it will be average and even more – at least in the north of the country…. According to our calculations, if the [precipitation this] winter will turn out be average, the level [of the Sea of Galilee] at the end of the season will be 210.8 meters below sea level – only two meters below the lake’s ‘upper red line.’ Of course, if rainfall exceeds the multi-year average, the level will be even higher.”

The “upper red line,” 208.9 meters below sea level, is the level at which the Degania Dam is opened to allow an increased flow into the Jordan and prevent the lake from flooding the city of Tiberias and other towns along its coast.

In the past two decades, Israel has experienced several successions of arid winters, exacerbating existing concerns that the country was overdrawing from the Sea of Galilee and from its aquifers and increasing the risk of rendering its fresh-water reserves undrinkable.

Several desalination plants have been established along the country’s coastline in recent years, with others in the pipeline, but despite being an international leader in this area, Israel still relies on rain for much of its water needs.