The Sea of Galilee, a biblical lake in northern Israel, was being lost to drought and the growing population around it. But now, Israel will open the floodgates to bring it back to life as a torrent of water gushes into what has up to recently, been a dry bed.
The water is fresh, high-quality–and expensive. Desalinated from the Mediterranean Sea and transported across the country where it will replenish the lake should it start to shrink again.
Though expensive, there is a positive return as the new network will let Israel double the amount of water it sells to neighboring Jordan under a broader water-for-energy deal forged through a working, though often fractious, relationship.
The Sea of Galilee is of huge significance–especially to Christians who believe that Jesus walked upon it– but today it is also Israel’s main reservoir and a big tourist draw. Hotels and campsites line the perimeter encircled by lush hills. It feeds the Jordan River that flows south to the Dead Sea.
Much as is happening across the globe as a result of climate change, after a heat wave or a strong rain, the level of the lake makes national news. Alarms went off regularly this past decade following protracted droughts and receding shorelines—as is the case for Lake Mead in the American Southwest.
To solve the problem, Israel built a chain of desalination plants along its Mediterranean coast putting it in the unlikely position of having a surplus of water, a bright spot in an arid region extremely vulnerable to climate change.
“All the extra water that (the plants) are producing, we will be able to bring it with the national water carrier system up north and into the Sea of Galilee,” said Yoav Barkay, who manages the national carrier at state-owned Mekorot.
“With this environment of climate changes, you don’t know what to expect next year and the year afterward,” he said. “We are no longer depending on rain basically for water supply.”
The refill system may be used more frequently with water exports to Jordan on the rise, he said. It can raise the lake’s level by half a meter each year, according to Mekorot.
Water was a major component in the peace treaty the neighbors signed in 1994. The arrangement was for Israel to supply Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of drinkable water a year. That was doubled in late 2021.
Around a year ago Israel and Jordan agreed to partner in a project that would see Jordan build 600 megawatts of solar generating capacity to be exported to Israel in return for the additional water supply.
Jordan’s minister of water and irrigation at the time said that climate change and an influx of refugees exacerbated Jordan’s water challenges, but that there are opportunities for regional cooperation to solve it.
Construction is now underway on a pipeline to again double the amount that will reach Jordan, industry officials told Reuters.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, which partners with Jordan in water security, says it is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, with renewable water supply meeting around two-thirds of demand and groundwater being used twice as quickly as it can be replenished. The solution being developed by Israel and Jordan may be cause for optimism for other such water-deprived areas.