A relatively dry winter and sharp drop in the water flow into the Sea of Galilee in recent months has Israel’s only freshwater lake at record low levels.
“More water has evaporated than has entered the Sea of Galilee [this year], and this hasn’t happened in 97 years,” said Uri Schor, spokesman for the Israel Water Authority.
Already in February, the Sea of Galilee was at its lowest level in a century due to an ongoing drought. Over the winter, the lake received just 10 percent of the rain that it normally receives.
The lack of rain has translated into a serious problem for the four streams that feed into the Sea of Galilee. According to the Water Authority, the rate of flow from the Jordan River is currently 3.3 cubic meters per second, instead of the seasonal average of 7 cubic meters per second.
The Water Authority has not pumped fresh water out of the lake in four years. More than half of the water consumed in Israel, for both agriculture and personal consumption, comes from the country’s desalination plants, said Schor.
Despite the fact that Israel can now create its own water from five desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast, the lack of flow into the Sea of Galilee has far-reaching consequences. As the water level drops, the salinity of the freshwater lake rises, posing a danger to fish and other marine life.
The lack of flow also means that Israel cannot stand by its commitment to allowing more water to flow toward the Dead Sea. In 1964, Israel built a dam at Deganya, the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, in order to divert water for agriculture, and at some points 96% of the water was diverted from the Dead Sea.
After much advocacy from environmental groups, Israel has allowed a trickle of 9 million cubic meters of water per year since 2013, an amount that is expected to increase to 30 million cubic meters this year. However, with the winter drought and continuously dropping levels, Israel may be unable to honor that agreement, putting the Dead Sea in further peril.
The level of the Dead Sea is dropping by more than a meter each year, creating sinkholes along the shoreline and shuttering beaches and roads close to the water.
The Sea of Galilee covers roughly 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) and is located 200 meters (656 feet) below sea level.
Schor said Israel’s growing population has put an increasing strain on the amount of water needed in the area.