The recent heat wave and scanty rainfall this past winter have combined to create a dangerously low water level in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

This winter's rains raised the level by a total of only 60 centimeters (24 inches) – and 25 percent of that gain has already been lost.

This is the fourth straight year that there has been a less than average rainfall in the country, leaving the underground aquifers throughout the country in worse shape than they have been for more than a decade.

The current water level in the lake is 1.145 meters (3 feet, 9 inches) lower than it was a year ago. It is expected to drop as much as two meters (6 feet, 7 inches) this year, leaving the lake dangerously close to the level at which the water is considered unhealthy to drink.

Water Rationing on the Table

The Water Authority announced in March that it would restrict the amount of water allowed per household, but no limits have been suggested for farmers and industries.  New sanctions will prohibit watering lawns during the day, and will ban new gardens.

These measures might still not be enough to ward off one of the worst water crises to hit the country in decades, however. The director of the Water Authority, Uri Shani, warned the Knesset Interior Committee at a special session in March, "I have no doubt that the level of the Kinneret will drop this coming July below the red line, and water will not be able to be drawn."

The height of the lake reflects Israel's water supply, because heavy rains and water stream down from the northern mountains into the Kinneret. The "red line" is 213 meters below sea level, below which ecological damage such as duckweed infestation and salinization is considered a serious possibility.  If, on the other hand, the water level climbs to 208.8 meters below sea level, the dams must be opened to prevent Tiberias and Ein Gev from being flooded.  This last occurred some 17 years ago.

Short Rainfall Not the Only Cause

There are a number of reasons for the looming water crisis. Pollution from car factories has destroyed some of the water sources that feed underground water aquifers.

Accumulations of dust particles in the atmosphere due to sandstorms coming in from the Sahara desert, which block precipitation, are another cause.

Global warming might also be a contributing factor, reducing the flow from Israel's mountain acquifer that feeds other important water sources, such as the Yarkon and Taninim Rivers. 

A similar crisis is affecting the Dead Sea as well, endangering the ecology and tourism in the east and south of Israel. The water level in the Dead Sea has been dropping for decades, plummeting more than 25 meters in the past 20 years.

With the Dead Sea currently at 419 meters below sea level, the water level at the lowest spot on earth is continuing to drop at the alarming rate of a meter each year. If immediate steps are not taken to remedy the situation, the mineral-rich water will drop to 440 meters below sea level by 2025, and another 25 meters by 2050.

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