Hotel owners and others breathed a sigh of relief today, as two Cabinet ministers unveiled their plan for saving the southern Dead Sea – without relocating the hotels.
The problem of the southern Dead Sea is the opposite of the more famous problem in the northern Dead Sea. While in the north, the Dead Sea is dropping at the alarming rate of a meter of a year, in the south – which is sealed off from the north – the water level is actually rising, threatening to engulf the shoreline hotels.
A major cause of the climbing water level is the accumulation of salt on the bottom of the sea’s southern pools. The accumulation is pushing up the water level by a full 20 centimeters (8 inches) a year, and the water has already reached some of the hotel gates.
The salt accumulation is the result of the intensive extraction over the years of precious minerals such as bromide, potassium and magnesium from the Dead Sea by the Dead Sea Works company – which will now be asked to pay its share in removing the salt.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Environment Minister Gilad Erdan held a joint press conference on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, at which they presented their integrated solution for preserving the southern Dead Sea. The plan's elements include a renewed boost to tourism in the area, full harvesting of the salt deposits, the formation of a dedicated fund of NIS 1 billion for the economic development of the area – and the retention of the hotels in their place.
The program will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval within three weeks, Misezhnikov said.
He praised the Dead Sea Works even as he delivered it an expensive blow: “I view the Dead Sea Works, which contributes so much to the State of Israel in employment, generating income and developing the area, as a major partner in the future of the Dead Sea region. I am of the opinion that the company should shoulder the major part of the costs in implementing the salt harvesting, which should begin immediately.”
The Dead Sea Works company, owned by Israel Chemicals, is not thrilled with the new decision. Israel Chemicals Fertilizer Division general manager Danny Chen said in January that the government is responsible for harvesting the salt and financing its removal. The cost of the removal is estimated at $760 million, plus an annual operations cost of $100 million.
Ministers Erdan and Misezhnikov said they will be asking the Finance Ministry to create a dedicated fund of NIS 1 billion, to be spent over the course of five years on incentives for entrepreneurs, the development of tourism infrastructures and the establishment of tourist attractions.