The Netofa Valley Pipeline Project

The Netofa Valley Pipeline Project: Rehabilitation of the Sea of Galilee and Reinforcement of the Water Supply to Northern Israel

For most of the State of Israel’s existence, the Sea of Galilee has been synonymous with the source of sweet fresh water for households and for agriculture.  Since Mekorot completed the construction of the New National Water Carrier, a mega-project that has brought the State of Israel into the era of desalination, Israel’s dependence on the Sea of Galilee as a major source of water has decreased significantly. Why, then, does the State of Israel and Mekorot see the low water level of the Sea of Galilee in recent years as a problem that needs to be addressed? And how does Mekorot intend to do this? This article will discuss these two questions. 

One of the consequences of the drought that has gripped Israel in recent years, and the north of the country in particular, is a significant decline in the water level of the Sea of Galilee. As of today, the lake is more than five meters below the upper red line. The natural sources of water that contribute to filling the lake are the Jordan and the side streams. The climatic forecasts indicate that the amount of water following into the lake’s catchment basin is expected to continue to decline, along with the depletion of additional water sources in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee and in the north of the country in general. In addition, the consumption of water in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee (for households, agriculture and industry) is expected to increase in the coming years, as well as Israel’s commitment under the peace agreement to supply water to the Kingdom of Jordan. In light of these two estimates, a national infrastructure project was announced for the preservation of the Sea of Galilee and its environs. The project has two goals: Firstly, to maintain the balance of the ecological system in the Sea of Galilee and in the north of the country in general; Secondly, the preservation of the Sea of Galilee as a strategic source of water for Israel’s water industry. Conservation of the points of entry of the water is important for the replacement of water in the Sea of Galilee, and for preserving the salinity level that is suitable for consumption by households, industry and agriculture.

In view of the fact that the amount of water flowing into the Sea of Galilee is decreasing, while consumption is increasing, maintaining the flow of water into the Sea of Galilee requires the importation of water from external sources. Thus, for the first time in the history of the water industry in Israel, massive and systematic conveyance of water is being planned from the center of the country to the north of the country.

Because the most northern desalination plant in Israel is situated in Hadera (a desalination plant in the Western Galilee is still in the planning stages), the project includes developing a water conveyance system from the center of the country to the north by establishing large water reservoirs to be deployed nationwide and the laying of a parallel pipeline of varying diameters as part of the National Carrier Plan.

At this stage, the system is being planned so that the surplus desalinated water – which exists mainly during the winter season when no irrigation is done – can be pumped from the national system to the Sea of Galilee. The system is being designed in such a way that, in the future, the system can continue northwards, in order to supply the area above the Sea of Galilee, and to increase the supply to the northern part of Israel. Water from the national system will reach Eshkol Reservoir in the Beit Netofa Valley in the Lower Galilee.

At the initial stage, a system will be built that will be fed from the National Carrier. This system will transfer water by means of a pumping station and a main line to the north. The route will pass through the filtered water reservoir at the Eshkol site, and parallel to the Netofa canal, which is part of the National Carrier system. The route is planned to bypass Eilabun from the south and to cross Road 65 in the tunnel, and then to continue north. The water will flow to the Sea of Galilee through the streams flowing into it from the west. In the future, it will be possible to continue the route northwards, and to connect it to Mekorot’s regional plants. This will increase the reliability of supply to consumers, in that it will provide a solution in cases of local or regional water shortages. The system has been designed for two supply scenarios, one for summer and the other for winter, depending on the amount of excess water available in the national system.

Intensive planning is underway for Mekorot’s Jordan District pipeline and its construction according to strict deadlines, using the area of the Eshkol site and the area of the Netofa Canal strip. Mekorot has already begun laying a 64-inch water pipe to clean up excess desalinated water from the Eshkol site. Work on the pipeline and the pumping station is expected to be completed within about two years.

At the same time, Mekorot is promoting the planning of additional pumping stations and pools between Rosh HaAyin and the Eshkol site, which will enable the transfer of surplus water from the national system, and from desalination plants, to the north of the country, in times of need. This system will improve the operational efficiency of the national system, the reliability of supply to consumers, and the ability to protect the Sea of Galilee and its catchment basin in times of crisis.

The cost of the project in the initial stage is approx. NIS 300 million, which will come from Mekorot’s current development budget, while the investment in the overall project is estimated to be NIS 1 billion.