Parts of northern Israel experienced the driest February since records began, the Water Authority reported Tuesday, with officials saying that the Sea of Galilee was now at its lowest level in a century.
Israel’s most important natural water source — also known at Lake Kinneret — received just 10 percent of its average rainfall for February, rising by just 22 centimeters (8.5 inches), far below the average for that month of 60 centimeters (23.5 inches).
“The situation is grave,” Amir Givati of Israel’s Water Authority told Army Radio. “The lake has fallen to its lowest level for a century.”
The level is 20 centimeters below what experts consider acceptable, the so-called “red line,” he added, noting that the “regional drought affects the whole of the Middle East.”
The shortage of rainfall is affecting agriculture, the environment and animal life in the area, Givati added.
The head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Giora Zeltz, warned Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) on Tuesday that without appropriate help, farmers would be forced to cease watering thousands of the 150,000 dunams (37,000 acres) currently under cultivation for fruit and vegetables, incurring losses of tens of millions of shekels.
The rest of Israel is spared from shortages thanks to five seawater desalination plants built along the Mediterranean coast.
They pump water through a pipeline system to homes throughout the country except for an area in northern Israel that is supposed to be supplied by the Sea of Galilee.
“A project to supply this entire part of northern Israel is under consideration. It is a challenge for the years to come,” Givati added.
Three quarters of the drinking water consumed by Israeli households comes from those desalination plants.
The Sea of Galilee covers roughly 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) and is located 200 meters (656 feet) below sea level.
It is also an important Christian pilgrimage site. Christians believe the lake to be the site of a number of Jesus’s miracles, including where he walked on water.
The usually wet Golan Heights received only 9% of its multi-year average for February, with Kfar Blum — a kibbutz in the northern Hula Valley — getting only 16%.
However, much of central and southern Israel fared much better, including the usually arid Negev desert region.
Kibbutz Beeri in the northwestern Negev desert, close to the border with the Gaza Strip, enjoyed 120% of its monthly average, with Beersheba, the Negev’s capital, enjoying 93% and Arad, west of the Dead Sea, 96%, the Walla news site reported.
Jerusalem received 40% of its February average.
The picture for the whole rainy season looks better, however, with 75% to 85% of the seasonal average falling in the northern hills and valleys, 80% to 90% on the central hills, 85 to 100% along the northern coast, and close to the average in the northern Negev.
Figures also showed that February nights were the coldest since 1997 over many parts of the country.