ISRAEL (AFP).- Leading country in desalination, Israel is launching a new, almost biblical challenge: pumping its surplus desalinated seawater to fill the mythical Sea of Galileedry due to climate change and overexploitation.
Irregular rains, suffocating summer heat and excessive transfers of drained water this freshwater lake, located 200 meters below sea levelwhich served for decades as an aquifer reserve for the Hebrew country.
Now, Israel wants to reverse the trend in this mythical lake whereAccording to biblical tradition, Jesus walked on the waters and multiplied the loaves.
The project will use a complex network of pipelines, tunnels and pumping stations installed in the 1960s.
According to Noam Halfon, a researcher with the Israel Meteorological Service, the temperature has risen by two degrees Celsius over the past two decades which, added to an increase of drought episodes between 2014 and 2018, contributed to drying up the Sea of Galileealso called Lake Tiberias.
“And some models predict that we will have less precipitation in general, a decrease of 10 to 15% compared to the second half of the 21st century,” says Halfon.
The demographic boom increases the pressure on this strategic aquifer. “The population doubles every 30 years. Without this project (to fill the lake), the situation will be terrible”, notify the agency AFP.
In the green hills of northern Israel, workers dig trenches to bury the kilometers of pipes that will join the lake with the gigantic desalination plants.
“When the water flows through the pipeline, bringing the surplus from the desalination plants in the center (of Israel), we will be able to raise the level of Lake Tiberiaswhich will become an operational reserve”, rejoices Ziv Cohen, engineer at the national water company of Israel, Mekorot, who supervises part of the work.
The project budgeted at 1 billion shekels (290 million euros, 310 million dollars) will, by the end of the year, reverse the trend and somehow revive this old natural dam.
To get here Israel has had to invest heavily in desalination technologies in recent yearsan experience later used in negotiations to normalize relations with Arab countries in the region facing the same lack of water.
“In the space of 15 years, Israel has gone from a water-scarce country to a country in a state of plenty, which is phenomenal.says David Muhlgay, CEO of Omis Water, which operates a desalination plant in Hadera.
the complex transforms 137 million cubic meters of salt water into drinking water every yearwhich means a 16% of the drinking water of the whole country. And its capacity can reach 160 million cubic meters per year, says Muhlgay.
But to desalinate the water, the factory built on the shores of the Mediterranean needs colossal energy. Since Israeli hydroelectric and nuclear production is insufficient to meet this demand, the country has coal and gas power plantssome located close to the Omis Water plant.
“Currently, it cannot provide me with renewable energy,” admits Muhlgay, aware of the contradictions of adapting to the climate crisis with desalination at the cost of high energy expenditure.
East Israeli dominance in desalination arouses envy and rapprochement with Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain or Morocco, with whom they have normalized relations since 2020.
The Omis Water plant was visited by a Moroccan delegation. And the company’s parent company, IDE, sent its vice president to the UAE.
“Everyone faces water scarcity, so improving access to water can solve some problems,” says David Muhlgay.
this novelty failed to ease the conflict with the Palestinians, which also has its derivatives in the distribution of water resources, points out Ayman Rabi, executive director of the Palestinian Hydrological Group, an NGO that deals with this issue.
Israel controls the main aquifers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian territory located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Under the peace accords signed in Oslo in the 1990s, Israel resold water to the Palestinians, but distribution has not kept pace with population growth.
To overcome this situation, the Palestinians have turned to crops that require less irrigation and are trying to harvest rainwater.
“Of course they (the Israelis) present themselves as exporters of water, but I don’t think that will have an impact on the Palestinians,” Rabi protests.