The nation is facing the most severe water crisis in its
history and "even from before then," Water Commissioner
Shimon Tal announced last week. The level of Lake Kinneret
will continue to drop steeply this year to about 214.3
meters below sea level, more than a meter below the "red
line" level where continued pumping jeopardizes water
quality, according to recent forecasts by the national
Mekorot Water Company. Lake Kinneret has received less than
one-quarter of the normal influx up to this time of year.
Tal called upon the public to adopt stringent water-saving
measures in light of the badly depleted state of Lake
Kinneret and the main underground reservoirs: the Coastal
and Mountain Aquifers.
Tal said the situation had been exacerbated by inadequate
rainfall so far this winter and all efforts now have to be
concentrated on conserving water, particularly in the urban
For the first time since the establishment of the State,
this year more water is expected to be supplied for domestic
use than for agriculture, due to plans to cut fresh water
quotas for farming by an average of 50 percent.
If Mekorot's projections prove true, Israel will be unable
to transfer the water it owes to Jordan under its agreement
with that country. The Degania pumping station which
supplies this water cannot reach the lake if the level falls
below minus 214 meters. The Water Commissioner met with
Jordanian officials earlier in the week to discuss this
issue as well as Jordan's concern over the spillage of
treated sewage piped from Eilat from a reservoir in the
Arava. Work has begun on modifications to the pumping
The annual forecast was revised because of an unusually dry
January, when only 30 million cubic meters of water entered
the lake. The January average over the last 30 years has
been some 80 million cubic meters. January is almost always
a critical month.
The situation could become even worse if a shortfall in
Israel's aquifers forces Mekorot to pump more than the 235
million cubic meters it had planned to take from the
Kinneret this year. As of mid-January, the level of the
southern section of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer was a full
meter below where it was at this time last year. If the
water level falls too far, saltwater could enter the aquifer
and cause permanent damage.
Mekorot says that the only way to prevent a water shortfall
is to immediately build another desalination plant near
Ashdod to begin supplying water next year. Mekorot Director
Amos Epstein called on the government to immediately approve
Mekorot's issue of a tender for a 50 million cubic meter.
seawater desalination plant at Ashdod. The proposed Ashdod
plant would be in addition to a similar-sized project at
Ashkelon and a smaller 15 million cubic meter production
unit along the coast already authorized by the
Water Commissioner Shimon Tal is also pressing the
government to approve the construction of two more
desalination units, each capable of producing 50m. cubic
In addition, new treatment plants must be set up to increase
the use of waste water for irrigation. The amount of treated
waste water used in Israel has remained virtually unchanged
from 1993 to 1999, about 260 million cubic meters a year.
For the next month, Mekorot will stop pumping from the
Kinneret into the National Water Carrier so that maintenance
work can be carried out. Pumping had already been restricted
to weekends only. During that time, water to the Haifa area
will be provided from other sources.
Mekorot drew 145 million cubic meters of water less from the
Kinneret last year than it did in 1999 because of its
depleted state. Amounts may have to be cut further this
Last week, Turkey and Israel signed the first major
commercial transaction on water in the Middle East.
Sources said the countries have agreed to a water purchase
in a preliminary deal that foresees the sale of the Manavgat
region's waters to Israel. Over the 10-year contract, Israel
is to buy 50 million cubic meters of Turkish water
Turkish water may also be sold to Palestinians and
Jordanians in the future.
The Manavgat River's water, 80 km. east of the Mediterranean
resort city Anatolia, is to be transported to Israel's
Ashkelon port by ship. Operation is expected to begin in
The only problem in finalization of the deal is reportedly
the price per cubic meter. Turkey is asking 23 cents per
cubic meter, but Israeli officials would prefer a price in
the 15-16 cents range, so that total costs will be between
60 and 70 cents: the cost of desalination in Israel.
Israel usually needs around two billion cubic meters of
water annually. Thus, the deal will supply 5 percent of its
Water experts are predicting a severe shortage in 2001 if
alternative sources are not found.