State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Dead Sea Dilemma – Part II

deadmed8My prior post about the “The Dead Sea Dilemma” summarized the current condition of the Dead Sea and the ecological value of the region. In this post I will briefly describe two solutions that have been suggested.

The Red Sea to Dead Sea Water Conveyance project – a conduit to transport water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea – is the most discussed possible solution to the depletion of the Dead Sea. The World Bank is currently administering a feasibility study and an environmental and social assessment study, which are expected to be complete in June 2011. A desalination plant would also be built along this conduit; the fresh water would be used as drinking water for Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, and the remaining salty concentrate would be released into the Dead Sea. Hydropower might also be produced. This is being promoted as a “Peace Conduit” by supporters who say that it would encourage cooperation and peace between these nations. There is also a possibility that Jordan will not wait for the World Bank’s assessment and will build a very similar project, the Jordan National Red Sea Water Development Project (JRSP), all on Jordanian land so that agreement between the nations is not necessary.

However, it seems that this could cause just as much or more ecological damage as doing nothing is causing. Coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, the northernmost reefs in the world, could be adversely affected by the withdrawal of water – withdrawing that much water could affect the sea level, currents, and nutrient levels. The mixing of the water in the Dead Sea would change the chemical make-up and water stratification (as the water from the Red Sea would be less salty) and could introduce new organisms into the Dead Sea. The canal carrying the water to the Dead Sea would lie along a fault line and could potentially leak salt water into groundwater reserves along its route. The construction and physical presence of the conveyance system would disrupt and perhaps irreparably damage ecosystems from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea basin. We could end up just replacing one set of problems with a different set. And if worst came to worst, this project wouldn’t solve the Dead Sea’s problems at all and would only add to the list of environmental issues in the area.

In my opinion, the Red-to-Dead project is not really a cure- it would just treat the symptoms. The basic issue that needs to be addressed is the unsustainable use of the Jordan River. An environmental organization in the region, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), is pushing for a Jordan River Peace Park and a cooperative sustainable development plan. The park would set aside stretches of land on both sides of the river, helping to restore the natural flow of the river. A development plan agreed upon by the Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians would work towards reducing current water usage and would plan for smart future development. Without addresses the underlying causes of the Dead Sea’s problem and planning for future growth, in a couple decades we might once again find ourselves in a tough situation with no easy answers.

Read the Red Sea to Dead Sea Water Conveyance Environmental and Social Assessment preliminary scoping report: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTREDSEADEADSEA/Resources/ERM_Environmental_Scoping_Report_Dec2008.pdf

For more information on the Jordan River Peace Park: http://www.foeme.org/projects.php?ind=123

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