This surprising conclusion arises from a thorough hydrological mapping study done as a thesis at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Leehee Laronne Ben-Itzhak, under the supervision of Prof. Haim Gvirtzman of the university's Institute of Earth Sciences. The study provides detailed information regarding the nature, volume and path of what is called the Judea Group Aquifer, an underground water reservoir beneath the Judean desert. A report on the study was carried in a recent issue of the Journal of Hydrology.
This aquifer begins in the Judean mountains and flows in a generally northeasterly direction towards the Dead Sea, with outflows at four springs adjacent to the Dead Sea - the Tsukim, Kane, Samar and Ein-Gedi springs. There also is some sub-surface flow into the Dead Sea. The rain-fed aquifer contains an average yearly volume of some 100 million cubic meters of water, of which only about 20 percent currently is used, says Prof. Gvirtzman, with the rest flowing into the Dead Sea. The water potential of the Judea Group Aquifer is sufficient to supply 5 percent of the current total freshwater usage in Israel, Gvirtzman notes, and could at least meet the potable water needs of the towns of Maale Adumim, Bethlehem and Hebron at much lower cost than at present.
Currently, he says the water coming to Maale Adumim is brought sometimes hundreds of kilometers from Lake Kinneret via the National Water Carrier. Why do that when there is water literally beneath the town? asks Gvirtzman.
In addition to the mapping survey carried out by Ben-Itzhak, another study is currently being done by a second graduate student, Eldad Levi, also working under Prof. Gvirtzman, who is analyzing the interface between the fresh and saline ground waters at various points in the Judea Group Aquifer, using a remote-sensing technique called the deep time-domain electro-magnetic method.
"These two studies have practical implications regarding future possibilities of ground water development for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians residing in the area and for conservation of nature reserves located along the Dead Sea," says Gvirtzman.
As for the impact of drawing more water away from flowing into the Dead Sea, which is rapidly becoming depleted, Gvirtzman says that, in any case, the current ground water flow into the Dead Sea totally is inadequate to halt that problem and that dramatic steps would have to be taken to resolve the situation.