A plan given Israeli cabinet approval will pump 100 million cubic metres of water annually by 2022 into the lake in the Galilee region, said Yechezkel Lifshitz, from the country’s energy and water ministry.
In 2017 Israel’s water authority said the sea, hit by years of drought, had reached its lowest level in a century.
Situated 200 metres (656ft) below sea level and 28 miles (45km) from the coast, the Sea of Galilee is mentioned in the bible as the site of a number of Jesus’s miracles.
Known in Hebrew as Lake Kinneret, it covers an area of roughly 62 square miles (160 sq km). Ten years ago it provided 400m cubic metres a year of fresh water and was the country’s largest freshwater reserve.
But a series of dry winters have reduced its level to such an extent that pumping had to be limited to 30-40m cubic metres a year.
Israel has managed to escape water cuts through the use of five desalination plants built along the Mediterranean coast. Lifshitz said they supplied 670m cubic metres annually – 80% of drinking water consumed by Israeli households.
He said two more plants would be built to serve the new project: one in the Galilee and another south of Jerusalem. The water would then be pumped into the lake’s tributaries in northern Israel.
“We are turning the Kinneret into a reservoir for desalinated water,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. “This is innovative and important, at least to the extent we are doing this, and has not been done until now.”
Lifshitz said that the long-term goal was to pump 1.1bn cubic metres per year by 2030, rising to 1.2bn when needed – at a “relatively high cost”, equivalent to more than $0.70 cents per cubic metre.
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