Thursday , May 13 2021

The shrinking sea in Galilee has some hope of a miracle – Environment



It was not long ago when fools at Ein Gev would lay their towels in the grass at the Galilean Sea.

Today, they put their parasols 100 meters further down on a sandy beach that has arisen because the iconic body of water shrinks.

"Every time we come, we feel hurt in our hearts," said Yael Lichi, 47, who has visited the famous lake with his family for 15 years.

"The lake is a symbol in Israel. When there is a drought, that's the first thing we're talking about."

In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard the calm waters, among groups from all over the world who visit.

The Galilean Sea, where Christians believe that Jesus went to water, has shrunk for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists increase the alarm.

Plans are supposed to revive the freshwater body known for Israelis as the Kinneret and to some like the Tiberias Lake.

For Israel, the lake is important, as it has long been the country's premier water source. Israeli newspaper Haaretz gives its water level daily on its back.

Its shrinkage has been a source of deep concern. When two islands emerged recently due to falling water levels, it received great attention in the Israeli media.

Since 2013, "we are below the low red line" beyond which "salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected," said Amir Givati, hydrologer at the Israeli water authority.

The level is only about 20 centimeters above the record low plumbed 2001 – except at that time 400 million cubic meters were pumped out irrigation.

"This year we pumped only 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad condition," said Givati.

In addition, 50 million cubic meters of Israel is sent to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreement.

Read also: Lake Toba faces threats to water pollution: Research

– Banan Valley –

Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.

It is 200 meters below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River between them.

Both the Dead Sea and Jordan have also suffered overuse.

The Galilean covers about 160 square kilometers, approximately the size of Liechtenstein.

At the Ministry of Water, the debt stands for five years of drought.

But "climate factors alone are insufficient to explain the reclamation of the Galilean Sea," wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, a researcher at Israel's Ben Gurion University.

Watered agriculture, pumping and diversion are the main sins, they say in an analysis.

Israel built a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the birth of the country, when it was in the pursuit of people's homes and tried to "make the desert flourish," as its early pioneers expressed it.

The aqueduct transported water from the lake towards the rest of the country.

"Tiberias Lake is used as a national reservoir," said Julie Trottier, a professor specializing in Israeli-Palestinian waters.

An artificial canal delivered water to the west towards the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.

That system has not been in place for 10 years. Now most houses in the western part of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while the farms are watered with treated and recycled water.

But Eastern Israel has no access to desalinated water, says Orit Skutelsky, from the Society for Nature Conservation in Israel.

Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake's effort.

Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters per year from those sources whose flow has decreased and is no longer sufficient to support the lake, "said the researcher.

Several kilometers from the beaches of Ein Gev at the foot of rocky hills cover huge net of banana trees whose leaves wint with the surrounding dry vegetation.

"We call it the valley of the ban," said Meir Barkan, Tourism Manager for Ein Gev Resort.

"When they started to plant trees, there was no water problem and the path is the only fruit you harvest year round."

Read also: Kenya's Lake Turkana puts on world heritage list

– "really spoiled"

But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are an important player in "competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism," says Professor of Geography at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, Eran Feitelson.

For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the research center Zemach Nisyonot, the solution is not to "kill agriculture and the local economy" without using less water.

The authorities suggest that the region supplies desalinated water via aqueduct.

Skutelsky said that in order to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow naturally.

But "it would be very expensive," said Skutelsky.

Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake like a fisherman.

In his open palm, he shows a Peter's fish just pulled from his net, barely bigger than his hand.

"The solution can only come from the government – or from heaven," he said.

He points to the half deserted pier that pilgrims can no longer reach and force visitors to go to the bank.

"I'm really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state," said Lev.


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