The Coastal Aquifer
The coastal aquifer extends along the Mediterranean coastline, from Caesarea southward. The water in this underground aquifer is stored inside land comprised of sand, sandstone or gravel. The water in the coastal aquifer is extremely exposed to pollution for two reasons: a) the coastal aquifer is located under the most populated area in Israel; b) there are many settlements, factories, power stations, garbage dumps and agricultural fields above it. All these factors produce pollutants that flow or seep into the underground water. Furthermore, over-pumping of underground water from the coastal aquifer causes seawater to penetrate the aquifer and causes salination of its underground water. During recent years many wells have been closed in the area because of pollution and salination of underground water.
The Mountain Aquifer
The mountain aquifer extends as an underground lake in the area of the mountains and foothills from Zichron Yaakov in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south. The quality of underground water in the mountain aquifer is better than that of the coastal aquifer but it is also exposed to pollution, because this area is mainly made up of severely cracked and hollow rocky land. Water permeates into the aquifer but pollutants do so as well, which spread rapidly within.
Surface Water Sources
The most important reservoir of surface water in Israel is Lake Kinneret. Water is pumped from the Kinneret and distributed throughout the country through the national carrier. There are other sources of surface water – springs, rivers, lakes and floodwaters – but Israel is actually extremely poor in sources of surface water. It has no large rivers and of those it has, most are intermittent and completely dry throughout the year. Furthermore, some rivers that once did have clean water have dried up in the drought whilst others have become polluted and can no longer serve as sources of water.
Lake Kinneret is the lowest body of fresh water in the world, at 231 meters below sea level and 46 meters deep at its lowest point. It provides one quarter of Israel’s water. A century ago, 20,000 people lived in the area of the Kinneret but today the population is approximately 300,000 and the level of pollution in the Kinneret has therefore risen significantly. During the five months of the Israeli summer, approximately two million vacationers visit the Kinneret.
In 1988 the level of the Kinneret rose by only 28 centimeters throughout the winter season - the smallest rise in Israel’s history. During 2001 the level of the Kinneret reached its lowest ever and the phrase “the black line” was coined.
The water level in the Kinneret had been dropping continuously since then until December of 2008, after which there have been very slight rises from the black line due to intermittent rains. All in all however, the water level still stands significantly below the bottom red line.
The Water Authority must make an important decision after consulting with the Operations Commission on how much water to pump from the Kinneret throughout the year, considering the situation of the coastal and mountain aquifers. This decision will obviously affect the total management of the Israeli water economy, determining cutbacks, private irrigation and the cost of water for consumers.