Israel pumping desalinated seawater from Mediterranean to Sea of Galilee

Rising temperatures, high population growth and intensive pumping has caused water levels to steadily decline in the world’s lowest freshwater lake.

Israel has started pumping desalinated seawater from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, the country’s biggest source of fresh water.

Irregular rainfall combined with rising temperatures, a high population growth and intensive pumping caused the water levels to steadily decline in the world’s lowest freshwater lake, called Lake Kinneret in Hebrew.

Work on the project‚ which collects water from five desalination plants on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, began four years ago, and has been dubbed the “reverse water carrier” project. Since the 1960s water was pumped from the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel via a series of pipes, reservoirs and tunnels to Israeli population centres in the centre of the country and arid desert regions in the south: now water is flowing through the same national carrier in the opposite direction.

The decision to embark on the project followed a series of drought years between 2013-2018 in which precipitation was lower than average, resulting in the level of the Sea of Galilee declining steadily until it reached the “black line,” the threshold at which water can no longer be pumped into the national water supply.

The project marks the first time in the world that desalinated water is being used to replenish a lake. Two rainy winters have temporarily improved the situation but the project, costing €265 million, was considered essential to maintain Israel’s long-term water security.

Israel Water Authority director Yehezkel Lifshitz said the project has many benefits. “The project we have launched proves that Israel is leading in innovative thinking and a creative planning approach for dealing with the effects of climate change, while ensuring a sustainable water supply, safeguarding Israel’s natural resources and maintaining the Sea of Galilee as a strategic buffer for the state of Israel.”

Israel also transfers water from the Kinneret to Jordan, even during drought years, as part of the peace agreement between the two countries, helping the Hashemite kingdom cope with its ongoing critical water shortage. Recently Israel agreed to double the amount of water it supplies to Jordan to about 100 million cubic meters annually after the two countries 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 in exchange for Israeli water.

Amit Lang, chief executive of Israel’s Mekorot water company, said the climate crisis and global warming have given rise to out-of-the box solutions. “The project is of operational and strategic significance ,and will allow us to maintain the levels in the national lake as well as the ability to maintain a constant flow of water to neighbouring countries.”