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Israel's Sea of Galilee rose 19 cm in two days as winter rains quench drought

The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, leading to the appearance of sandy spots at the water's edge
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
The site, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse

After experiencing weeks of heavy rainfall, Israel’s five-year drought has reached its end, but the country’s water troubles persist, according to the Israel Water Authority.

In the past two days, consistent rains caused the Sea of Galilee in Israel’s north to swell 19.5 centimeters.

“Today’s rains don’t erase the last five years,” Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor. “We expect this year to be average rainfall, or higher than average. It doesn’t make the drought issue worse, but it also doesn’t fix it.”

The Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, remains 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) below its record level. However, it remains above the black line, which, if showing, signifies the water level has reached a dangerously low level capable of inducing irreversible environmental damage, including increasing the water’s salt content and permanently altering water quality.

In 2018, the Water Authority removed roughly 17,000 tons of salt from the lake in an effort to prevent it from becoming too salty at such a low level.

A red line, located about six feet higher than the black line, signifies a low water level that is still ecologically sustainable.

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

The Water Authority hopes the water will rise to the red line by the end of this winter. In the summer, the Sea of Galilee typically evaporates at an alarming rate of a full centimeter per day.

The past five winters in Israel have been considered “dry,” according to the Water Authority, with Israel’s water tables reaching their lowest levels since scientists began recording in 1920.

For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country's main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.

Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread 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, hydrologist at Israel's Water Authority.

The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 -- except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.

The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometres (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.

Jean Michel CORNU (AFP)

Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country's birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to "make the desert bloom", as its early pioneers put it.

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

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

A man-made canal supplied 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 some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.

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