Pray for rain: Sea of Galilee water level too low despite winter rain

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View of agricultural fields near the Sea of Galilee northern Israel, on February 18, 2017. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Despite winter rains, the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) stands at 20 centimeters below the red line posing alarming implications for the environment, agriculture and tourism in northern Israel.

Biblically, abundant rainfall is a sign of God’s blessing while its withholding is a sign of his displeasure. Perhaps in order to engender national dependence on him, Israel is located in a dry region:

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your corn, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17)

The North of Israel has experienced four consecutive years of official drought. Some parts of the country experienced particularly high December rainfall, unlike October and November. February was particularly dry, just 10 percent of the average rainfall, so that the usual winter replenishment did not fully take place, resulting in a rise of only 22 centimeters, rather than the average of 60.

This vital, fresh-water resource of the Sea of Galilee for Israel and neighboring Jordan, one of the world’s four most “water poor” nations, is in long-term decline.

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GRAPHIC CAPTION: The upper red line indicates the highest acceptable water level, which when reached triggers the opening of the Dganya Dam to reduce the level. The lower red line is the level at which ecological damage will start to occur, so that pumping is forbidden. Source: http://forecast.israelinfo.co.il/kineret#

The implications for agriculture in Galilee are that if pumping from the Sea of Galilee is completely stopped, “150,000 dunams (37,000 acres) of current fruit and vegetable cultivation could be lost, amounting to tens of millions of shekels,” said Giora Zeltz, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, in a warning last week to Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.

Environmental damage could be long term. If deep subterranean salt water streams are not continually plugged by pressure from fresh water above, saline water could be released, severely damaging the lake.

Furthermore, many tourists visit Biblical sites around the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River, especially the Yardenit baptismal site, where a lack of water would be devastating, according to Emek Hayarden Regional Council.

The rest of Israel benefits from water supplied by five desalination plants, but delays and disagreements, including opposition from local residents, have meant that such a plant in the North is way off.

Further south, the Dead Sea is also extremely low and in steady decline, falling from 394 meters below sea level in the 1960s to the current 423 meters below, causing massive environmental degradation. One 2016 report, by Nadav Lensky and Elad Dente of the Geological Survey of Israel, blamed this on the building of multiple dams in Syria and Jordan, along rivers feeding the Jordan River, rather than conventionally blaming rainfall levels, or the Israeli and Jordanian potash industry’s water usage.

Various plans are in place to address the different issues, including doubling water pumped to north Jordan through a new pipeline to supply its drinking water needs, in exchange for greater Israeli access to potable water sources at new desalination plants, despite the fact that further pumping will exacerbate the Sea of Galilee water level problem and also reduce the level of water in the southern part of the Jordan River.

In addition, a massive $10 billion, 180-kilometer, 2 billion cubic meter per year pipeline project has been approved taking water from the Red Sea, through Jordanian territory, to replenish the Dead Sea and feed the additional desalination plants, including the world’s largest. Environmentalists are extremely concerned about the project because of the lack of research into its implications and the potential for introducing foreign algae. Friends of the Earth Middle East prefer the replenishment of the Jordan River itself, which would by implication affect Syria and Jordan’s damns. Meanwhile, security experts are concerned about the deals implications should conflict arise.

The Sea of Galilee’s low level, however, appears to be related to low rainfall. In the Bible, James (chapter 5:17,18) explains that God hears the prayers of ordinary people concerning rain, giving the example of Elijah, whose life’s work, through God’s help, was to confront evil and bring Israel to repentance:

“Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

It is time for the people of God to pray both for the spiritual rain which will bring the people of Israel to repentance, and the physical rain which will replenish the Sea of Galilee.