The Sea of Galilee, in northeast Israel, was once a major source of freshwater. Although currently the country relies heavily on desalination and water reuse as non-conventional sources of water, and little water is withdrawn from the Sea of Galilee, it is depleted by overuse and the effects of climate change. Israel is now involved in a project to replenish the Sea of Galilee with water from its desalination plants, informs Phys.org.
The National Water Carrier, the country’s largest water project, was built in the 1960s to carry water from the Sea of Galilee to the arid south. Now the plans are to reverse the water flow towards the north, pumping surplus desalinated water which exists mainly during the winter, when it is not used for irrigation. The objectives are to maintain the ecological balance of the Sea of Galilee and to preserve it as a strategic source of water for Israel, according to Israel’s National Water Company Mekorot. Future plans would continue the system northwards to increase the supply in northern Israel. The overall investment in the project is estimated at NIS 1 billion (USD 290 million).
The project would increase the resilience of the water supply in the face of global warming and rapid population growth. The average temperature in the country has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 20 years, and some models forecast 10-15 % less precipitation in the second half of this century, according to Noam Halfon, from the Israel Meteorological Service. But it also underlines the contradiction of adapting to a changing climate with energy-intensive desalination.
Israel’s desalination capacity has opened diplomatic doors in the most water-scarce region of the world. At the end of 2021, Israel and Jordan signed a water-for-energy deal brokered by the UAE, where a major solar power plant to be built in Jordan will export electricity to Israel, while an Israeli desalination plant will send water to Jordan. Earlier this year Mekorot selected a group of companies to design the future water systems in the country, not only to develop the domestic water sector, but also to supply water to neighboring countries.
At present Israel supplies water to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority pursuant to diplomatic agreements. But access to water has not improved for the Palestinian population regardless of new technologies. Only one in ten people have direct access to safe water in the Gaza Strip, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has denounced Israeli practices in relation to water.