Despite Recent Rains, Kinneret Just Above Historic Low Levels

Sunset at the Kinneret, sea of Galilee. Northern Israel. October 12, 2015. Photo by Chen Leopold/flash90
Sunset at the Kinneret, northern Israel. Oct. 12, 2015. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Israel has become one of the most water-efficient countries in the world over the past several years. Today, close to 80 percent of Israel’s water usage comes from recycled, filtrated water or from desalinated water, and pumping from the Kinneret is at an all-time low.

But also at an all-time low is the level of the Kinneret. At the beginning of December, Israel’s largest freshwater body of water stood at -213.04 meters – just four centimeters from the “lower red line,” below which scientists say that irreversible ecological damage will take place. That is the lowest level recorded since 1926, when measurements of the Kinneret were first conducted.

Since then, things have improved a bit. Over the past week, some 6.5 centimeters of water were added to the Kinneret due to the recent heavy rains. As of Sunday morning, the Kinneret was at -212.92 meters, meaning that an additional 4.12 meters of water is needed in order to refill the lake to its maximum height.

There are several reasons for the Kinneret’s low level, even though Israelis are using a relatively small amount of its water. Rainfall in Israel in recent years has been average at best, but in the area of the Kinneret it has been lower than average. Last year was one of the hottest on record in Israel, leading to high levels of evaporation, one of the biggest reasons for water losses in the Kinneret.

In addition, much of the rainfall and natural runoff from streams and melting Golan snow that naturally fill the Kinneret have been diverted to underground aquifers, which are also dangerously low. Water management officials say that ensuring the health of the aquifers is a greater need at this time, since the aquifers are needed to pump water for agriculture throughout the country, and are needed to maintain the ecological balance in forests and open areas.

About 800 million cubic meters (MCM) of water flows into the Kinneret annually on average. About a tenth of that is pumped to Jordan, as part of the 1994 peace accord between the two countries. Evaporation accounts for as much as 300 MCM  in water losses annually.