Sunday , October 24 2021

Shrinking Sea of ​​Galilee hopes for a miracle – Environment


Not so long ago swimmers in Ein Gev laid their towels in the grass on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee.

Today, they are raising umbrellas about 100 meters away, on a sandy beach that appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic water body.

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

"A lake is a symbol in Israel, when the drought comes, it's the first thing we're talking about."

Before Lichi, wooden ships with Christian pilgrims on board sail in calm waters, among groups from all over the world who visit.

The Sea of ​​Galilee, in which Christians believe that Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly because of abuse, and ecologists are anxious.

Plans are being developed to reanimate a freshwater body known to the Israelis as Kinneret and some as the Lake of Tiberias.

For Israel, the lake is of key importance, being the main source of water in the country for a long time. Israeli newspaper Haaretz it ensures its water level every day on its back side.

Its contraction is a source of deep concern. When two islands recently appeared due to the falling water level, they have gained widespread attention in the Israeli media.

From 2013, "We are below the low red line" for which "the salinity increases, the fish have a hard time surviving and the vegetation is affected" – said Amir Givati, hydrologist from the Israeli water authority.

This level is only about 20 centimeters above the record low level in 2001 – except that 400 million cubic meters a year were pumped for irrigation.

"We pumped only 20 million cubic meters this year, but the lake is in very poor condition," said Givati.

In addition, 50 million cubic meters are sent by Israel to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.

Read also: Lake Toba threatens water pollution: Research

– "Banana Valley" –

His unique qualities go beyond her religious significance.

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

Both on the Dead Sea and on the Jordan also suffer from abuse.

Galilee covers around 160 square kilometers, more or less the size of Liechtenstein.

In the ministry of water, five years of drought are attributed to her condition.

But "climate factors alone are not enough to explain the record shrinking of the Sea of ​​Galilee," wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, scientists at the Israeli University of Ben-Gurion.

Irritable agriculture, pumping and diversion are the main culprits, they say in the analysis.

Israel built a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the birth of the country, when it sought to build a nation and tried to "bloom the desert", as its pioneers took it.

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

"Lake Tiberias was used as a national reserve," said Julie Trottier, a professor specializing in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.

The artificial channel has provided water westward towards the Mediterranean coast and the Negev desert in the south, she said.

This system has not been functioning for about 10 years. Now most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, and farms are irrigated with water, which is processed and recycled.

But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

Farmers in this region rely on rivers that provide 90% of the lake's contribution.

Dozens of pumps remove almost 100 million cubic meters each year from these sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer sufficient to supply the lake, says the researcher.

A few kilometers from the beaches of Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, huge networks cover banana trees, whose leaves wither with the surrounding dry vegetation.

"We call it a valley of bananas," said Meir Barkan, director of tourism at Ein Gev.

"When they started planting trees, there was no problem with water, and the banana is the only fruit you collect throughout the year."

Read also: Lake Kenia in Turkana inscribed on the world heritage list

– "I'm really ashamed" –

But without desalinated water or recovered water, the farm is a major player in the "rivalry for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism," said Eran Feitelson, a professor of geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

For Liora Avichai, agronomist in the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not "killing agriculture and the local economy", but using less water.

The authorities propose supplying the region with desalinated water through the aqueduct.

Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent farther upstream, and then allow it to run off naturally.

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

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

On the palm of his hand he shows the fish of St. Peter, which he just pulled out of the net, barely larger than his hand.

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

He points to the half-abandoned dock, whose pilgrims' ships can no longer reach, forcing visitors to go ashore.

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

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