Sea of Galilee water level to reach 2-year record high after rainy winter

Lake to rise above lower red line, authorities say, calling it ‘good news’; but woes far from over after 5-year drought

View of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel, April 19, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
View of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel, April 19, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

As a rainy winter nears its end, Israeli authorities expect the water level of the Sea of Galilee to rise in the coming weeks above the lower red line for the first time in two years.

Water Authority staff on Sunday morning measured the water level of the major Israeli freshwater source, putting it at just 23.5 centimeters below the lower red line, which stands at 213 meters below sea level — the level below which pumping water faces legal restrictions — the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday.

According to the report, the water level has risen by 1.405 meters (4.6 feet) this winter and is expected to rise further as more rain falls and the snow on Mount Hermon melts and flows to the Sea of Galilee. The lake is still 4.435 meters (14.5 feet) below its fullest level and 1.635 meters (5.3 feet) above the black line.

The black line is a dangerously low level that can create irreversible ecological problems, including an increase in the water’s salinity and algae blooms that can do permanent damage to the water quality, and flora and fauna. Last year, the Water Authority had to pump 17,000 tons of salt out of the Sea of Galilee to ensure that the low water levels did not cause the water to get too salty.

Heavy rainfall across Israel over the past few months means Israel has broken a five-year drought that plagued the north, but the country’s water woes are not yet over. During the summer, the Sea of Galilee evaporates at the rate of a centimeter per day, meaning it will again dip below the lower red line.

“This winter will end above the red line,” said Pinhas Green of the Kinneret Authority. “There are large quantities of snow that are melting and the winter isn’t over yet, and we can assume the Sea of Galilee will rise by several dozens of centimeters. That’s definitely good news. 2018 was a very difficult year.”

Past winters have been less generous with the rain. Last summer, after five years of dry winters, water tables in Israel’s north plunged to the lowest level in at least 98 years, since scientists first began taking taking measurements in 1920.

Photo shows the decline in the level of water in the Sea of Galilee, October 8, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

Last year, northern Israel experienced one of the worst droughts in 100 years, leaving the country’s water tables with a deficit of 2.5 billion cubic liters of water, compared to non-drought years.

That deficit is the equivalent of one million Olympic-size swimming pools, water that would normally flow through Israel’s streams and underground water tables toward the Sea of Galilee and other water sources.

Northern Israel has currently exceeded normal rainfall for this period, with most places in the north recording upwards of 130 percent of the average rainfall.

The Water Authority has warned that while the rain is welcome, scientists are still worried about the future.

“We know, because of climate change, that this area will get less and less rain, because that’s been the trend for the past 30 years,” Water Authority spokesperson Uri Schor said last month. “Some years you get a bit more rain, some years you get a bit less, but the overall trend is there will be less and less water.”

Over the summer, the cabinet approved a NIS 105 million ($30 million) emergency drought recovery program, which includes funding for two desalination plants and a plan to pump desalinated water directly into the Sea of Galilee. Schor said those programs are still going to be essential to ensuring that the country has enough water in the future. Additionally, he called on Israelis to be mindful of their water consumption and to reduce water waste, even when it is pouring outside.

“On one hand, we need to stop wasting water, and on the other hand, we need to create new solutions,” he said.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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