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Pioneering plan inaugurated to top up Sea of Galilee with desalinated water

In world first, water produced from the sea will be pumped into Israel’s largest freshwater lake to maintain levels even in parched years

Screen capture from video of desalinated water being released from production plants to flow into the Sea of Galilee, December 28, 2022. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of desalinated water being released from production plants to flow into the Sea of Galilee, December 28, 2022. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Water authorities on Tuesday inaugurated an innovative project to pipe desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee in order to maintain the lake’s water level during dry years even as its waters fill growing regional demands.

One of the lowest-lying bodies of water on Earth, the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake and its emergency water store.

It is the first time in the world that desalinated water is being used to replenish a lake.

Water Authority Director Yehezkel Lifshitz said the project “proves that Israel is leading in innovative thinking and a creative planning approach to dealing with the effects of climate change, while guaranteeing a sustainable water supply, safeguarding Israel’s natural resources and maintaining the Sea of Galilee as a strategic buffer.”

As part of the project, earlier this year the national water carrier, Mekorot, constructed a 13-kilometer (8-mile) underground pipe connecting the lake to infrastructure that in turn links to five desalination plants on the Mediterranean coast.

Water can now flow into the lake via the Tzalmon stream, which drains into the Sea of Galilee near Kibbutz Ginosar on its northwestern shore.

At the launch ceremony, sluice gates were opened, enabling desalinated water to flow into the combined artificial and natural conduit to reach the lake.

For the time being, the new system is not expected to be required for constant use due to sufficient water levels in the lake.

Mekorot chairman Yitzhak Aharonovich predicted that “the ability to pipe water into the Sea of Galilee will maintain the level of the national lake and give Mekorot the ability to control water reservoirs even in difficult times.”

Mekorot CEO Amit Lang said the climate crisis has given rise to “out-of-the-box solutions” and lauded the project as being “of operational and strategic significance, allowing us to maintain the levels in the national lake, as well as the ability to maintain a constant flow of water to neighboring countries.”

The project, begun seven years ago, cost NIS 900 million ($264 million).

Channel 12 reported that it initially faced opposition from industry experts, in particular within the Water Authority, due to its high cost, which raised water prices for Israeli consumers.

A second part of the project, to be completed in the coming years, will see additional desalinated water from new production plants along with water from wells in the north also directed into the Sea of Galilee, the network reported.

Work on a pipe that will channel desalinated water to the Sea of Galilee, June 3, 2021 (Firas Talhami, Water Authority)

The idea for the pipe was born toward the end of several disastrous drought years, between 2013 and 2018, when the lake’s level approached an all-time low.

Thanks to plentiful rain over the past two winters, the water level has, temporarily, recovered. In April, it reached as high as 32 centimeters (13 inches) below its maximum capacity, for the first time in 30 years.

But with climate change, predictions are that rainfall will decline, alongside a ramped-up demand for water amid Israel’s rapid population growth.

Demographics apart, additional supply is needed to implement a 2018 government decision to connect communities in northern Israel that rely on groundwater and springs to the national water infrastructure.

Within the framework of political agreements, Israel sells about 100 million cubic meters annually to the Palestinians, who are estimated to drill an additional 160 million cubic meters themselves in the West Bank and 200 million cubic meters in Gaza.

The national water carrier, built in the 1960s, near to Kadarim in the upper Galilee. (Hanay, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Last October, Israel agreed to double, to 50 million cubic meters, the water that it supplies annually to parched Jordan. A month later, the two countries signed a UAE-brokered deal according to which Israel will supply the kingdom with up to 200 million cubic meters of additional water, in return for Jordanian solar energy.

The National Water Carrier, built in the 1960s, directed water from the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, southwards to the densely populated center and arid south.

With desalinated water gradually replacing the lake’s freshwater as the main source for drinking and irrigation, a new national water carrier was built to take desalinated water north.

Over 2022, the Water Authority planned to pump just 300 million cubic meters, around 7.5 percent of the lake’s total volume of 4,000 million cubic meters, for the benefit of towns and villages around the lake, with small quantities going to the Golan Heights just to the east, and some entering the original, north-to-south National Water Carrier.

Desalinated water supplied the nation with most of the rest.

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