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Israel's Sea of Galilee to get desalinated seawater top-up

In this Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 photo, Israeli Arabs take a picture of their baby with horses in the Sea of Galilee near the northern Israeli Kibbutz of Ein Gev.
AP Photo/Oded Balilty

The shrinking Sea of Galilee, the inland lake where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, is to be topped up with desalinated seawater, a government official said on Monday.

A plan given cabinet approval on Sunday will pump 100 million cubic meters of water annually by 2022 into the lake in northern Israel's Galilee region, Yechezkel Lifshitz, deputy director general of Israel's energy and water ministry, told AFP.

Last year Israel's water authority said the body of water, hit by years of drought, had reached its lowest level in a century.

Situated 200 meters (656 feet) below sea level and 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the coast, the Sea of Galilee is mentioned in the bible as the site of a number of Jesus's miracles.

Known in Hebrew as Lake Kinneret, it covers an area of roughly 160 square kilometers (62 square miles).

Ten years ago it provided 400 million cubic meters a year of fresh water and was the country's largest freshwater reserve.

But a series of dry winters have reduced its level to such an extent that pumping had to be limited to 30-40 million cubic meters a year.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Israel has managed to escape water cuts through the use of five desalination plants built along the Mediterranean coast.

Lifshitz said they currently supply 670 million cubic meters annually, 80 percent of drinking water consumed by Israeli households.

He said that two more plants would be built to serve the new project -- one in the Galilee and another south of Jerusalem.

The water would then be pumped into the lake's tributaries in northern Israel.

"We are turning the Kinneret into a reservoir for desalinated water," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting.

"This is innovative and important, at least to the extent we are doing this, and has not been done until now," he said.

Lifshitz said that the long-term goal was to pump 1.1 billion cubic meters per year by 2030, rising to 1.2 billion when needed. 

He added that the supply of desalinated water should not cause any ecological damage.

"The lower the lake level, the more salty the water gets, so the water that we're going to discharge, which contains little salt, will restore the balance," he said.

But the desalination of seawater has a "relatively high cost", he said, equivalent to more than $0.70 cents per cubic metre.

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