Water in the Peace Process
"And he removed from thence, and digged another well, and
for that they strove not. And he called the name of it Rehoboth;
and he said: "For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall
be fruitful in the land""
Genesis XXVI, 22
The control and use of water resources has always been one of the more heated issues in the Middle East. The Bible teaches us both about skirmishes which took place over the right to use a well as well as about practical water sharing arrangements. In the Book of Genesis we learn for example about the fights which took place between the servants of the Patriarch Isaac and the servants of Avimelech, the King of Gerar, over the use of wells dug by them. The citation in the preamble to this article describes the end of these struggles when finally a well was dug by Isaacs servant over which no fights arose. When Isaac's son, Jacob, arrives at the community well of Haran on his way to his uncle Laban and wonders about the presence of the herdsman at the early hour of the day he is told that the well is covered by a heavy stone which requires the presence of all of the herdsman for its removal. The heavy stone was put there, no doubt, to prevent unauthorized water drawings by any single herdsman thereby ensuring the availability of water for the use by the whole community. In a demonstration of strength, Jacob removes the heavy stone all by himself and waters his cousin Rachel's sheep, an act which most probably impressed his bride-to-be immensely.
Our region's scarcity of water resources as well as its prevailing arid climate have made the control over water resources a continuing contentious element of modern regional relations. Control over the Jordan river sources has ignited the region at times and the so-called "Battles over the Water" waged between Israel and Syria during the years 1964 to 1967 are but one example. The arrangements between Israel on the one hand and Jordan and the Palestinians on the other are however a sign of the recognition that a peaceful resolution to these problems is attainable.
However, even the peaceful resolution of all of the water related conflicts in the region will not address the major dilemma facing our region which is the recognition that existing water resources will not be sufficient to meet the requirements for potable water of the ever growing population. It has already been recognized that the forecasted water deficit may be resolved solely through the development of new and additional waters from resources hitherto not utilized. Such sources could take the form of either desalinated sea water, a source for which Israel has already recognized the need, or could be obtained through the transportation of massive quantities of fresh water from outside the region. The need to develop new and additional water resources for the region will require coordination between the peoples of the region and such an effort is indeed being fostered through the Working Group on Water Resources of the Multilateral Peace Process.
Those who are not be familiar with the water balance of our region should be forewarned that large watercourses such as the Mississippi or the Amazonas are not present in abundance. With the exception of a number of large rivers which are far removed from Israel such as the Nile which flows through Equatorial and Eastern Africa and the Euphrates and the Tigris which flow from Turkey through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf, most of the watercourses in the region are perennial ones, while the others have a limited annual discharge only.
Israel has a semi-arid climate with an average annual rainfall ranging from 25 mm (one inch) per year in Eilat (on the shores of the Red Sea) to 900 mm (37 inches) in the Upper Galilee. Rainfall in Israel occurs only during the winter months, furthermore, the intensity of the rainfall makes the catching of all the flood waters for storage or groundwater replenishment rather uneconomical. Consequently, a substantial part of the winter floods remains either uncaptured and flows into the Mediterranean or into the Dead Sea or evaporates from seasonal storage reservoirs.
Israel's Water Resources
Israel's natural water resources comprise groundwater (more than 60%) and surface waters, mainly the Jordan River System-Lake Kinneret (Lake of Tiberias) basin. The water resources are replenished by rainfall as well as by groundwater recharging activities. At present, Israel consumes close to 100% of its renewable fresh water resources, approximately 1.6 billion CM per year and uses in addition, marginal waters such as brackish waters and treated wastewater. Consequently, the Water Commission's policy is that any additional non-domestic water allocation will be made only from treated wastewater and that in the future added urban uses will have to be based on added resources consisting mainly of desalinated water resources. In Eilat domestic uses are already being met by desalinated sea water.
The Groundwater Aquifers
Almost two-thirds of Israel's renewable water resources are derived from groundwater aquifers. Israel's major aquifers are the Coastal Aquifer which extends beneath Israel's coastal area and the Mountain Aquifer also known as the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer after its natural outlets, the Yarkon and Taninim Springs, in the Sharon area. Additional smaller aquifers are the Western Galilee Aquifer, the Shechem (Nablus)-Gilboa Aquifer, the Eastern Aquifer extending east of the national groundwater divide, the Arava Aquifer extends along both sides of the Jordan Israel border and the Hermon-Golan Aquifer in the north.
The Jordan River System - Lake Kinneret Basin
Israel's main surface water resource is the Jordan River System - Lake Kinneret basin. Lake Kinneret is fed principally by the River Jordan which originates in the northern part of Israel from three main sources, the Dan, Hermon (Baniyas) and Snir (Hazbani and Wazani) springs. The outlet of the Dan is on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 armistice line between Israel and Syria and contributes an annual average approximately 250 MCM of water to the Jordan River. The sources of the Hermon (Baniyas) and Snir (Hazbani and Wazani) Rivers are on the Golan Heights and in Lebanon respectively and each contributes an annual average of 120 - 130 MCM to the Jordan River.
From the joining of these three sources south of the town ofKiryat Shmonah, the Jordan flows south through the Huleh Valley and is fed by a number of additional side tributaries originating principally on the Golan Heights. The Jordan flows into Lake Kinneret through the Buteiha Valley.
The average annual discharge of the Jordan north of and including the flow into the Lake of Tiberias is 800 - 900 MCM, out of which approximately 600 MCM are usable, due mainly to heavy evaporation.
Lake Kinneret is a fully regulated annual reservoir. No free flow of water from its southern outlet takes place. Its level is controlled and water releases from the Lake are either through the pumping stations of the National Water Carrier or, in the event of a water surplus in Lake Kinneret due to heavy rainfalls which cannot be fed through the National Water Carrier and which may cause the shores of the lake to flood, through the Deganiya Gates at the southern outlet from the Lake Kinneret.
The Yarmouk River forms the border between Syria and Jordan up to Hammat Gader (El-Hamma) and thereafter constitutes the border between Israel and Jordan. The Yarmouk flows into the Jordan River south of Lake Kinneret at the Naharyim confluence and henceforth the Jordan River flows through the Jordan Valley until its ultimate discharge into the Dead Sea. Since on average only small quantities of waters are released from Lake Kinneret, and since most of the Yarmouk River waters are captured by its riparians (Syria, Jordan and Israel), there is only a limited flow of water south of Lake Kinneret consisting mainly of overflows, various discharges and some side tributaries.
The International Aspect
Water does not recognize political boundaries and a significant part of Israel's water resources either traverse boundaries or extend beneath different territories.
As explained above, Israel's main surface water resource, the Jordan River System is bordered by four riparian states (Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan). The use of waters from this system by the upstream users affects the downstream users. Thus, for example, Syrian withdrawals from the Rokad tributaries, which is an upstream tributary of the Yarmouk, affects the flow in the Yarmouk and consequently potential uses by Israel and Jordan which are the downstream users of the Yarmouk river.
A number of Israel's groundwater aquifers are in a similar situation. For example, the Arava Aquifer extends on both sides of the border between Israel and Jordan and the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer as well as the Shechem-Gilboa Aquifer extend beneath Israel and beneath areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Overextraction of waters from the upper part of the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer in the West Bank will result in a decrease of the yield of the Aquifer at their natural outlets in the Sharon area and will cause the salination of the wells tapping into the Aquifer.
While it is relatively simple to control the uses of a national water system by way of legislation or regulation, such is not the case in an international setting. Conflicting national interests and intended uses for water are not easily reconciled and require a degree of goodwill and mutual trust. In a situation where no political agreements regulate the relations between the riparians such goodwill and trust is very likely not to exist. The peace negotiations with Jordan, Syria Lebanon and the Palestinians are therefore the first opportunity for these parties to discuss directly on a bilateral basis a comprehensive settlement for the waters in which they have an interest, while taking into account their respective uses and need for these waters.
The Early Arrangements
During the early years following the establishment of the State of Israel a number of attempts were made to arrive at an agreed division of the waters of the Jordan River System between its four riparian countries. The most widely cited plan was prepared by Ambassador Eric Johnston of the United States who, during the years 1953 - 1955, attempted, in a series of visits to the region, to arrive at an agreed upon apportionment of the waters of the Jordan River System. Johnston did not succeed in his mission and, consequently, his proposals were never made public by the parties in any final formal manner. According to some foreign sources, the Johnston Plan was based on the following basic principles:
1. The waters of the Jordan River would be for the unconditional use of Israel subject to certain allocations to Lebanon and Syria of Upper Jordan River tributaries. In addition, Israel was to supply Jordan with an annual allocation from Lake Kinneret;
2. The waters of the Yarmouk River would be for the use of Jordan subject to a Syrian upstream withdrawal and a Jordanian downstream delivery to Israel. The allocation to Israel was based on the historical uses of the area known as the Yarmouk triangle which comprises the area delineated by the Lake of Tiberias, the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River; the Jordanian allocation was based on the arable lands of the Jordan Valley;
3. Jordan was to construct a water conduit system for the purpose of irrigating both banks of the Jordan River;
4. Storage and water regulation systems were to be constructed on the Yarmouk River for improving water use efficiency.
Independent Water Resources Development
Since the Johnston Plan was not accepted politically by the Arab states, each of them commenced developing its water resources independently of the others.
In the 1960's both Israel and Jordan developed their ndependent water structures for the utilization of surface waters. During the years preceding the Six-Day War, Israel constructed its National Water Carrier ("NWC") aimed at carrying Jordan River waters to the southern part of the country and for efficient water regulation. The NWC, which is the backbone of the Israeli National Water System ("NWS"), enables the efficient regulation and allocation of the main Israeli water resources, the Lake Kinneret basin, the Coastal Aquifer and the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer. The NWC carries waters of the Jordan River from Lake Kinneret through the coastal plain to the southern reaches of the land. Initially, the intake of the NWC was to be along the Upper Jordan River, adjacent to the Bnot Ya'acov Bridge. Due to lack of agreement with Syria on the implementation of the NWC, the venue of the intake was moved to the north-western shore of the Lake of Tiberias1. Once implemented, the NWS totally changed the agricultural development infrastructure of Israel by enabling the efficient use of all of Israel's main water resources in the coastal zone for urban and agricultural uses and in the north-western part of the Negev. Annually, some 400 MCM of waters are pumped from Lake Kinneret and transported through pipes and open channels to the south enabling the development of the agricultural settlements in the north-western parts of the Negev.
During the same years Jordan developed its own water projects as well. The main Jordanian project is a water conduit to transport water from the Yarmouk River at the Addasiya diversion point through a tunnel and thereafter through an open channel system along the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River. The King Abdallah Canal ("KAC"), also known as the East Ghor Canal, is at present some 110 km in length and transports annually an average of 120 MCM. The water is currently used both for irrigation purposes in the East Jordan Valley as well as for water supply to Amman through a pumping station at Deir-Alla. However, due to the lack of adequate storage systems, the full water potential of the Yarmouk River has not been exploited to date, and especially during the winter period when there is no immediate need for irrigation, water flows unutilized into the Dead Sea.
Prior to 1967, following the implementation of the NWC by Israel, Syria commenced the construction of a series of channel conduits for the diversion of the waters of the Jordan River tributaries (Wazani and Baniyas) across the Golan Heights into the Rokad River Basin which flows into the Yarmouk River and confluences with the Jordan River south and downstream of the NWC, thereby effectively preventing Israel from utilizing these waters. The Syrian plan, which was approved by the Arab League, had two objectives. Originally, it was devised for the purpose of preventing Israel from utilizing the Jordan River waters through the NWC. At a later stage a plan was developed to store the diverted waters behind a storage dam at Muheibe on the Yarmouk River for use by Jordan as well as by Syrian farmers. The Battle over the Waters and later the Israeli control over the Golan Heights following the Six-Day War, prevented the Syrians from diverting the sources of the upper Jordan tributaries. In the course of the 1980’s the Syrian Government implemented a major irrigation plan for the development of agriculture in the Syrian Southern Golan. For this purpose the Syrian Government commenced the construction of dams on the Syrian tributaries of the Yarmouk River thereby causing a reduction of approximately 40% in the flow of that river.
The Peace Process
As anticipated, water arrangements are a core elements in the Middle East peace process. In practice, elements of water allocationsbetween the parties are negotiated and concluded within the framework of the bilateral negotiations between Israel and each of its neighbouring countries and other cooperative water related issues are discussed in the framework of the Working Group on Water Resources of the Multilateral Peace Process. To date, Israel has concluded a comprehensive agreement with Jordan on mutual water allocations and uses as well as an interim agreement with the Palestinians. Water allocations will undoubtedly also be dealt with in negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.
Jordan - Israel
The Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, concluded on 24 October 1994, contains a comprehensive water agreement between the two countries. The Treaty provides for water uses, divisions and allocations of both surface and groundwaters along the common border between the countries. The water arrangements between Israel and Jordan are based on the following principles:
(a) The mutual recognition of the rightful allocations of both countries in the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers as well as in the Arava Aquifer;
(b) That the management and development of their water resources do not harm the water resources of the other party;
(c) The recognition that the existing water resources are not sufficient to meet their needs and that, accordingly, the parties have to cooperate in finding additional water resources;
(d) The need to prevent contamination of water resources.
Based on the foregoing principles, Israel and Jordan agreed on a number of specific arrangements which include allocationsfrom the Yarmouk River as well the utilization of lower Jordan River waters, utilization of the Arava Aquifer, construction of storage systems on the Yarmouk and the lower Jordan River as well as cooperation in the finding of additional water for Jordan, as follows:
1. The Yarmouk River
The major surface water resource common to Jordan and Israel is the Yarmouk River which flows from the east into the Jordan River and forms the border between Israel and Jordan from Hammat Gader (El-Hamma) westward. Pursuant to the terms of the Treaty of Peace and in accordance with historical uses, Jordan has been granted the residual use of the waters of the Yarmouk River after enabling Israel to pump certain quantities, as follows:
(a) 25 MCM to Israel
Israel has a priority right to pump an annual quantity of 25 MCM from the Yarmouk River, 13 MCM of which are pumped in the winter period and 12 MCM in the summer period. This quantity is extracted by Israeli pumping stations along the Yarmouk River downstream of the Jordanian diversion into the KAC Canal at Adasiya. An agreed division of the flow takes place at Addasiya to enable Israel to pump the allocated quantities.
(b) Exchange of 20 MCM
In the winter period, Jordan concedes to Israel pumping 20 MCM from the Yarmouk. Israel, in return, concedes the same quantity to Jordan during the summer period. The pumping of these waters by Israel in the winter period takes place through the pumping stations along the Yarmouk River, and in effect during the winter period Israel is entitled to pump 33 MCM from the Yarmouk River which is a combination of Israel's winter allocation of 13 MCM and the additional 20 MCM conceded waters. The transfer of the 20 MCM from Israel to Jordan during the summer period is effected by a pipeline which was constructed especially for that purpose and which extends from the Beit Zera reservoir across the Yarmouk River to the KAC Canal.
2. The Jordan River
The arrangements between the two countries relate only to the waters of the Jordan River south of Lake Kinneret. Following the construction of the NWC, Lake Kinneret has become an operative annually regulated reservoir with its southern outlet being opened only if the water level in the lake exceeds its maximum permitted elevation of 208.90 meters below sea level. Accordingly, on average, only small quantities of Jordan River waters flow south of the Lake, and the River is fed mainly by diverted saline springs from the Kinneret, by side tributaries of the River south of the Kinneret, by various discharges into the river and by Yarmouk River as well as by Jordan River overflows.
(a) 10 MCM of Desalinated Waters
The salinity of the Lake of Tiberias is caused inter alia by the discharge of a number of saline springs into the Lake. Currently Israel diverts some 20 MCM of these saline springs from the Lake and releases them into the Jordan River downstream of the Deganiya Gates. In accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Peace these saline springs are earmarked for desalination, Jordan is entitled to 10 MCM of such desalinated waters. Until such desalination takes place Israel agreed to transfer to Jordan during the winter period 10 MCM from Jordan River water. Like the 20 MCM referred to above, these 10 MCM are transferred through the pipeline between Beit Zera and the KAC Canal.
(b) Maintaining Current Uses
The marginal waters flowing in the Jordan River south of its confluence with the Yarmouk River, mixed with other flows in the River are utilized by Israeli downstream users for agricultural purposes in the Beit Shean Valley. In accordance with the terms of the Treaty Israel has the right to maintain its current uses of the Jordan River waters along the Beit Shean Valley up to Tirat Tzvi. After satisfaction of these Israeli uses Jordan will have the right to utilize a similar quantity of water from the Jordan River.
The Treaty contemplates the construction of a number of storage systems on the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers.
(a) Diversion/Storage Dam at Addasiya
The diversion of the Yarmouk River waters into the KAC Tunnel is effected through a provisional diversion structure in the riverbed immediately downstream to the entry into the KAC Tunnel. This provisional structure is adjusted periodically to effect the division of the flow between Israel and Jordan. The parties have agreed to cooperate in the building of a diversion/storage dam, downstream of the entry to the KAC Canal. The purpose of the dam is to increase the efficiency of the Jordanian diversion of the Yarmouk River waters into the KAC Tunnel while at the same time ensuring that all of Israel's allocations from the Yarmouk River waters and downstream uses are ensured. Preliminary studies for determining the exact site of the dam are currently being conducted.
(b) Jordan River Storage and Excess Flood Waters
Jordan is entitled to store for its use a minimum average of 20 MCM of floods in the Jordan River. The storage will be in the form of a system of storages on the Jordan River south of its confluence with the Yarmouk River.
The storage system may be built to accommodate more floods in which case Israel will be entitled to use an additional 3 MCM. Excess floods that are not usable and will otherwise be wasted can be utilized for the benefit of Jordan and Israel. A study is currently underway to determine the feasibility of the lower Jordan storages.
(c) Additional storage systems can be jointly agreed upon and constructed.
4. The Arava
The demarcation of the border between Israel and Jordan left 14 of the wells supplying water to the Israeli Arava settlements on the Jordanian side of the border. The Agreement stipulates that Israel will continue to have the use of these wells, and that it may replace such of these wells as fail. In addition to the 14 existing wells, Israel has been granted the right to develop an additional 10 MCM of water from sources on the Jordanian side of the border. These additional waters are likely to be drawn from the deep groundwater aquifer and Jordan and Israel have already agreed to conduct a joint research of the deep groundwater aquifer to determine its water potential and its possible utilization as a source for the additional 10 MCM.
5. Additional Waters
On the understanding that there is an additional need for water to Jordan, Israel and Jordan agreed to cooperate to find, for Jordanian use, sources for the supply of an annual quantity of 50 MCM of waters of drinkable standards. The parties have not yet been able to agree on the sources of such additional waters with the Jordanian position being that these waters are to be drawn from the Lake of Tiberias while Israel insists that any additional waters are to be derived from desalinating sea waters.
6. Water Quality and Protection
The protection against pollution of the shared waters is a major objective. The parties have therefore agreed to monitor the water quality, to refrain, within three years, from discharging industrial and municipal waste into the river before treatment and to ensure that brine from desalination will not be discharged into the Jordan River.
(Part 2 will deal with the Palestinian Agreement, Syria and Lebanon)
1The effect of the removal of the intake of the NWC from the upper Jordan River to Lake Kinneret is two-fold. It necessitates pumping the water from Lake Kinneret (209 meters below sea level) by some 400 meters instead of operating the NWC solely by way of gravitation and, due to the higher degree of salinity of Lake Kinneret compared to the Jordan River waters, the NWC carried water is far more saline than originally envisaged.
Advocate Alster is a partner in the Tel-Aviv law firm of Landau, Alster, Shimoni & Co. and is a consultant to the Water Commission, as such he serves as legal advisor to the Israeli delegation to the Israel-Jordan Joint Water Commission. He was formerly the Director of the General Law Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are the author's and do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Israel. The author wishes to express his gratitude to Mr. Moshe Yizraeli for his valuable comments to a draft of this article.
Originally published in JUSTICE - The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, No. 9, June 1996.
© All rights reserved