Kinneret Salinity on the Rise After Four Dry Winters

View of the Kinneret as seen from Mitzpeh Ofir in the Golan Heights. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Low levels of rainfall in northern Israel have caused havoc in the environmental balance of the Kinneret, leaving Israel’s largest body of fresh water with its highest level of salinity in 50 years. According to officials, the increased level of salt is due to the lack of rainfall in the region.

This is the fourth year of lower than average rainfall in northern Israel, and according to environmental officials, this year has been especially dry – the driest in 100 years in the region. Without fresh water to replenish water that has evaporated or been piped away, salinity levels have risen considerably, and were measured at 298 milligrams of sodium chloride per liter in the lake at the end of February. In February 2016, the level of sodium chloride was measured at 278 mg/liter, and a year before that at 269 mg/liter.

The Kinneret’s natural salinity is actually 350 mg/liter, but that is considered too high for agricultural purposes. In 1967, the state began a project to divert water from several springs that fed into the lake, reducing the salinity level within two years to 300 mg/liter. If the current trends continue, the lake could reach that level again, or even surpass it.

Besides an increase in salinity, the lake’s low level has other environmental consequences. Among them is a reduction in the number of Galilee Amnon (tilapia), a fish native to the Kinneret. The numbers of fish in the lake fell drastically several years ago, reaching a nadir in 2008 when the lake reached its lowest level ever. Since then, the fish has made a comeback, but the numbers have begun falling again.

The fish are considered vital for the environmental balance of the lake, as they eat grasses and other elements. To replenish the fish, the Water Authority is funding a project which would see more than a million tilapia and other fish released into the Kinneret, after they were raised on fish farms.