Israeli and Jordanian officials are working together on a project to build a canal that would replenish the evaporating Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea.
Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructures, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Jordanian Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammed Thafer al-Alen plan to submit a request to the World Bank for funds to carry out a feasibility study for the canal. As part of the study, Jordanian water professionals will visit Israel to examine wastewater treatment and desalination techniques.
“Israel and Jordan have a common interest in water and water technologies,” said Ben-Eliezer. “I intend to strengthen cooperation in these areas.”
The water level in the Dead Sea has been dropping for decades, plummeting almost 25 meters in the past 20 years. It currently stands at 417 meters below sea level, the lowest spot on earth, with the water level dropping at the alarming rate of a meter each year. If immediate steps are not taken to remedy the situation, the mineral-rich water will drop to 440 meters below sea level by 2025, and another 25 meters by 2050.
Before the 1960’s, according to a report released early this year by the Infrastructure Ministry’s Chief Scientist, Professor Michael Byeth, the drop was due to a lack of rain and a drought in the Dead Sea’s drainage basin. Since that time, however, the National Water Carrier has redirected water from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the rest of the country, severely reducing the flow to the Dead Sea.
The destruction is also due in great part to the building of the Degania dam on the Jordan River, Syria’s dam on the Yarmukh River and Jordan’s Abdullah Canal. According to Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan, Israel is supposed to divert large amounts of water to Jordan
Furthermore, evaporation and drying procedures by Israeli and Jordanian chemical extraction plants have now essentially turned the southern basin into an artificial evaporation pool for the Dead Sea Works. The southernmost portion of the sea has already been separated by land from the rest of the sea.
Erosion is lowering the level of the water table and damaging engineering structures. Water pools and beautiful natural sites are being disturbed as well.
The issue has become more urgent in recent years due to sinkholes that have begun to appear along the shoreline, creating safety hazards for Jordanians as well as Israelis. Hotels and other facilities are at increasing risk as a result of the developing phenomenon, threatening the tourist industry.
The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal feasibility study, expected to cost some $15 million, will examine the effects of the project on the ecological balance in the area as well as the impact on the quality of the water itself.
According to the original plan, two billion cubic meters of water per year would have made their way from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. That plan was scrapped after experts said that amount of seawater would have changed the chemical composition of water in the Dead Sea to an unacceptable level, creating chalk deposits. The plan was subsequently modified to reduce the flow to a maximum of 650 million cubic meters of seawater moving into the Dead Sea instead.
If approved, the entire project is expected to cost $2 billion and will involve the cooperation of the French government, as French water companies are slated to participate.