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The lake has dried up everywhere. Israel pumps water from Med as solution

Hadass Gold, CNN

Sea of ​​Galilee, Israel (CNN)Despite its name, the Sea of ​​Galilee in northern Israel is actually a freshwater lakeand has sustained life for thousands of years. Today, the lake still waters vineyards and local farms that grow everything from green vegetables to wheat to tangerines. Its archeology, hot springs and hiking trails provide tourism and livelihoods to the local community.

But this place of religious pilgrimage - the place where the New Testament says many of Jesus' miracles were performed - faces a bleak future. The climate crisis has caused drastic changes inlake levels. It happens to be full now, but just five years ago it hit an all-time low.

Climate change and unsustainable water management are drying up lakes in the Middle East and elsewhere, but the Israeli government hopes there is a solution. It plans to pump water from the Mediterranean Sea and remove the salt. Send it across the country to replenish the lakes as needed.

This is a dramatic transformation of the Sea of ​​Galilee, known in Hebrew as Kinereth, which once pumped nearly all of Israel's drinking water. Water flows in the opposite direction.

Israel has a wealth of desalination expertise. As a water unstable country, for over 20 years seawater has been extracted from the Mediterranean Sea and processed through a process called reverse osmosis. This is the removal of salt from water to make it drinkable. This is a process other parts of the world have gone through during times of drought, including California, but it's an everyday reality in Israel: Her five desalination plants along the coast now serve nearly all of the country's 9.2 million people. of tap water is provided.

This new project looks a bit overwhelming with 31 kilometers of 1.6 meter wide water pipes, but it is the first of its kind. It takes desalinated water and pumps it into the Tsalmon River, which feeds the lake.

When he first heard about the project, Noam Ben Shoa, the head of Israel's state water company Mekorot and his engineer, thought it was a strange idea.

"But very quickly we realized the value it would bring to the domestic market itself," he told CNN at the pipe construction site.

It will also help develop agriculture in the wider region and relations with neighboring Jordan, he said. A long-standing agreement to sell ten million cubic meters of water to the kingdom. In 2021, the two countries signed a new agreement under which Jordan will receive 200 million square meters of desalinated water annually from Israel (about 20% of Jordan's water demand). This is in exchange for solar energy to power the Israeli grid. Emirati company plans to build 600 solar power plants in Jordan to generate energy.

Within a few months, a new $264 million pipeline is expected to be operational and capable of moving 120 million square meters of water per year, but only when it is needed. can be pumped to, says Ben Shoa.

"The uniqueness of this project is that it gives us almost unlimited flexibility," he said. “We can basically get water where it is available, just bypass it and transport it where it is needed.

Getting ahead of the crisis

Doing things radically differently during the last five years of drought that ended in 2018 I was keenly aware of the need. Even after pumping water from the lake, water levels here were still at record lows. But that's why, as the climate crisis worsened, Israel's water authorities stepped in.

"They looked at future climate change and what would happen with rainfall in the region, as well as population growth and projected increases in water demand," said senior scientist Gideon Gal. the head of the Kinneret Limnological Institute told CNN. "And they realized that 30, 40 years from now, he's going to have serious problems maintaining [water] levels in the lakes and maintaining water quality if something isn't done.

But that has never happened before. Even with the salt removed, the composition of the water differs in other ways, Gall said.

"When you mix demineralized water with spring water, you see effects on biology in experiments," Gal said. "We bring things into the lake that might not exist in nature." their experiments show. In fact, increasing water turnover may even help lakes combat the effects of climate change. This helps prevent overgrowth of bacteria and helps keep the water temperature down.

"But given what we think we know about climate change and what happens at the lake," Gal said. "The risk of introducing demineralized water is a risk worth taking."