After nearly fifty years of blocking the flow of water from the Sea of Galilee to the lower Jordan River, Israel is opening the floodgates — albeit in a measured fashion. The plan is to replenish the Jordan River with 30 million cubic meters of water annually, starting with about 1000 cubic meters per hour and increasing that amount over the next two years. Meanwhile, organizations involved in the project will work to clean the riverbed and treat the water. The IDF has already removed landmines from the area left there from the 1967 war.
The goal is to restore the natural environment and to make the area attractive to tourists. In particular, the location of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist is of special interest to Christian pilgrims, who frequently arrive at nearby Jericho to visit the site.
The flow of water was originally blocked in 1964 to divert water to the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s only source of fresh water, at a time when Israel was struggling to provide water for its growing population. The diversion caused tension between Israel and its neighbours, and subsequent responses were a contributing factor to the Six-Day War.
According to Israeli Water Commissioner Alexander Kushnir, this renewal effort is made possible by technological advances in technology and water conservation. “We have established a system of desalination plants, water purification and waste water reuse facilities, along with optimizing the use and conservation of citizens – which has enabled the Water Authority to significantly increase the amount of water allocated to nature, along with the ever-increasing restoration of natural water resources,” he explained, as cited by the Jerusalem Post. Increased rainfall this winter has also enabled the venture.
The rehabilitation project is being hailed by Jordanian partners, too, but not everyone is impressed with the effort. Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, claims that Israel is simply not doing enough. According to Bromberg, the region requires 220 million cubic meters annually, significantly more than Israel has planned to release.