President Katsav toured the area and was shocked to learn that the Dead Sea is now standing at 417 meters below sea level. At present the water is 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, according to a report by the Ministry of National Infrastructures’ chief scientist Professor Michael Byeth.

The reasons for the destruction, he told Katsav, are numerous and complex.

Before the 1960’s, said the report, a 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 to the rest of the country, severely reducing the flow to the Dead Sea.

With the creation of Jordan’s Abdullah Canal, the flow to the sea slowed even more.

Syria’s dam on the Jordan River’s main tributary, the Yarmukh River, also contributed to the drop in fresh water supply to the area.

Worse, 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 seperated by land from the rest of the sea.

Chemical extractions in the southernmost basin damage the remainder of the sea, as salt has been rapidly accumulating in the nearby resort area. The salt accumulation at the bottom of the sea bed has been artificially raising the water level there by 20 centimeters per year. This threatens both existing infrastructures and the dozen or so hotels along the southern strip.

At the same time, the amount of actual water content in the sea has been steadily decreasing in the resort region.

The problem has finally come to the attention of the cabinet, which has ordered the Ministry of Tourism to find a solution for the hotels before the Dead Sea Works franchise ends in 2030.

In the meantime, large grinding machines move through the waters, crushing the salt which has accumulated at the bottom of the southern sea. Great piles of the salt are pushed into columns, creating a temporary solution which allows a deep enough water basin for tourists who want to soak in the healing waters.

According to local tour guide Younis Abu Hamad, however, it’s not enough. “Barely a kilometer to the south the water is almost gone, and the heavy salt accumulation in the water near the hotels has to be plowed regularly. More and more salt is being piled into the columns, and more columns are being created.”

Mud flats are also being exposed, creating an environmental and planning hazard, but a bigger concern is the development of dangerous sink holes that open up without warning – a real safety hazard.

Erosion is lowering the level of the water table and damaging engineering structures. Water pools and beautiful natural sites are being disturbed as well.

This is not the first debate about the issue, said Environment Ministry Director General Dr. Miki Haran, who said a similar discussion took place in January 2003.

Other discussions have taken place over the years, each with recommendations being made, including a coalition comprised of Israel and Jordan which would establish an international consortium to examine and address the issue.