Friday, January 8, 2010

Sea of Galilee and Jordan River: Man v Nature

Greetings from East Jerusalem! Apologies about the lack of posts, things have been a little nuts here. I'm going to talk about the main water issue plaguing not only israel, but also Jordan, Syria, and the PA (Palestinian Authority-- aka west bank/gaza) It's a little complicated (read: mess!) but try to bear with me because it's also really interesting.

The Jordan river has been manipulated multiple times throughout history. There is a dam that regulates the flow of the river going from the sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.

There are a couple of issues that plague the sea of Galilee and the Jordan river. Primarily, the levels of the sea of Galilee keep depleting since it is the primary source of freshwater in the region. Typically, the sea of Galilee flows into the river Jordan, and then eventually flows into the dead sea, which has high levels of saltwater. But while the sea of Galilee is depleting, the flow of the Jordan is reversing back into the sea of Galilee .

Here's a nice shot of the Jordan River, in the spot where some say is near where Jesus was baptised:

But after talking to our guide for a bit, he admitted that the spot where Jesus was baptised was probably closer to Jericho, a city in the west bank. When I asked him why people didn't go there to see the actual spot, he said the river wasn't so nice there. That turned out to be the biggest understatement ever. After a certain point, the lower Jordan river begins to accumulate massive amounts of sewage, due to increased agriculture and settlements along the banks.

(It smelled worse than it looks... trust me)
So a second problem is the amount of pollution in the lower Jordan. Sewage from cities, kibbutz and towns along both sides of the border have been dumping sewage into the river Jordan.

This sewage accumulates as it flows through the lower river and into the Dead Sea. This is a problem because many people along the river rely on the water as a resource for both drinking water and agriculture. As the water flows south into the West Bank, where there is little access to clean drinking water, nor much infrastructure in place to purify the water for domestic use. There have been recent efforts to build sewage treatment plants along the Jordanian and Israeli banks of the river. Right now, the treated water is being devoted to agriculture. The environmentalists feel that if Israel continues to use the sea of Galilee as its main source of freshwater for agriculture, there is no need to use this treated water from the Jordan river, and that it should be returned back into the currents in order to restore equilibrium in the environment.

A third problem is that the sea of Galilee is slowly becoming more salinated. This, again, is due to the water level depleting Historically, there was a salt water ocean that circumvented  Galilee, Jordan and the dead sea. Some of the water has been preserved in the base of the mountains and underneath the Galilee sea in the form of salt springs. Normally, the pressure from the freshwater prevents the salt water from penetrating through the ground into the base of the sea, but when the freshwater levels are low, there is an imbalance of water pressure, and the salt water seeps in.

So these are the main problems that are threatening the ecosystem in this region. In my next few posts, I'll talk about the geopolitical aspects to these problems, which escalate the conflict further, and some of the proposed solutions. Stay tuned!

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