'Because of climate change, this area will get less rain'

Winter rains raise Sea of Galilee level by 19 centimeters in 2 days

Downpours in northern Israel bring snow to Hermon, end 5-year drought, but Water Authority says climate change means problems won’t be solved by a year of plentiful precipitation

Heavy rainfall across Israel over the past few weeks means Israel has broken a five-year drought that plagued the north, but the country’s water woes are far from over, according to the Water Authority.

Over the past 48 hours, the level of the Sea of Galilee rose by 19.5 centimeters. The generous rainfall in Israel’s north has swollen streams that feed into the lake, with some of them flowing at rates not seen since 2013, drone footage released by Amir Aloni of the Nature and Parks Authority showed.

“Today’s rains don’t erase the last five years,” said Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor. “We expect this year to be average rainfall, or higher than average. It doesn’t make the drought issue worse, but it also doesn’t fix it.”

The Sea of Galilee is now 1.24 meters (4 feet) below the lower red line, and just 0.6 meters (2 feet) above the black line, according to the Water Authority. The lake is still 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) below its fullest level.

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.

Schor said the Water Authority hopes that the Sea of Galilee will fill to above the lower red line by the end of the winter. During the summer, the Sea of Galilee evaporates at the rate of a centimeter per day.

People walk in the rain next to Jaffa gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on January 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Past winters have been less generous with the rain. This 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.

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.

Rains flooded ancient Caesarea, turning the park into a “little Venice,” on January 9, 2018. (courtesy Yoav Cohen/Nature and Parks Authority)

Northern Israel has currently exceeded normal rainfall for this period, with most places in the north recording upwards of 150 percent of the average rainfall. North of the Sea of Galilee, areas have received upwards of 463 millimeters, out of an annual average of 671 millimeters, even before the rainiest month of January and February reach their full potential.

The Nature and Parks Authority reported that heavy rains along the coast flooded parts of the Caesarea National Park, turning it into “a little Venice.”

Mount Hermon reported snow this week, with snow levels reaching 150 centimeters (5 feet) at the summit and 120 centimeters (3.9 feet) on the lower slopes. The resort’s ski runs are expected to open this weekend after the current snowstorms abate.

The Mt Hermon Ski Site in the midst of a snow storm on January 9, 2018. (courtesy Ski Mt Hermon/Facebook)

The Water Authority 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,” said Schor. “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.

The Zalmon Stream in northern Israel swells with rain on January 9, 2018. (courtesy Nadav Bartan/Nature and Parks Authority)

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