Dead Sea Solutions

Dead Sea Solutions Powerpoint

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Background:

The water level of the Dead Sea has been falling significantly since about 1930 and is still continuing to lower today. Presently, the water level is decreasing by 1 meter each year and fallen a total of ~30 meters since 1970. During the last 50 years, the surface area has also shrunk from 960 square kilometers to 620 square kilometers. This decline in the water level is a result of a few different factors. First of all, Israel, Jordan, and Syria all divert water flowing towards the Dead Sea from the Jordan River, as a source of drinking water and for irrigation purposes. Secondly, chemical industries in both Israel and Jordan extract potash from the Dead Sea. Therefore, the amount of water flowing into the Dead Sea from the Jordan River has gone from 1,300 million cubic meters per year to 260 million cubic meters per year. As a result of this rapid decline, the Red Sea – Dead Sea water conveyance project has been suggested as a solution and was recently established as “feasible” by the World Bank. There are 3 goals this project aims to achieve:

  • “To save the Dead Sea from environmental degradation”
  • “To desalinate water and/or generate hydroelectricity at affordable prices in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority”
  • “To build a symbol of peace in the Middle East

Three different options have been presented but there is one recommended scheme. This scheme involves 2,000 million cubic meters of water per year being taken up from the Gulf of Aqaba and transported in pipelines that travel 140 kilometers north along the Arava Valley. The plan then has the water reach a hydropower plant and desalination plant outside the city of Finan, Jordan. At this point, the desalination process will have separated the water into brine and fresh water. The brine will continue to travel north and reach a second hydropower plant, after which the outflow will be dumped into the Dead Sea. The fresh water will travel towards the east, in pipelines and provide water to cities in Jordan, such as Tafila and Amman. Fresh water will also be transported to regions such as the Dead Sea basin and the Arava Valley in Israel, in addition to areas in the Palestinian Authority. However, these areas have not yet been determined.

While doing research, I thought this solution seemed rather straight forward. But after visiting Israel and speaking with Eli Raz, who is a geologist at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, I realized it is actually quite complicated. Eli Raz first of all pointed out that importing 2,000 million cubic meters of water per year is not enough water to raise the levels to their previous heights. In fact around 800,000 million cubic meters of water would need to be pumped out of the Red Sea in order for the Dead Sea levels to rise significantly. There are also environmental concerns particularly with the brine emptying into the Dead Sea. The brine will not only chemically alter the waters of the Dead Sea, but could drastically change the appearance with the development of red algal blooms and white gypsum formations. As one of Israel’s popular tourist destinations and with its historical and religious significance, these could be detrimental effects. The majority of the pipelines will also be placed in the Arava Valley, which is the most tectonic region in Israel. As a result, there are concerns that the soil and ground water could be contaminated if seismic events cause leakages along the conduit. Additionally, there are also issues with how much responsibility each country is allotted. The recommended scheme allows both Israel and Jordan to take on large roles, but obtaining water from the Red Sea is not the closest option. Transporting water from the Mediterranean Sea is actually much closer. Eli Raz suggests that first of all the dams along the Jordan River should be opened. Then rather than building a new desalination plant the Hadera desalination plant should be used and the water transported to the Jordan River. There it would be allowed to naturally flow down the Jordan River and into the Dead Sea. One of the goals of this project is to be a symbol of peace in the Middle East. However, the plan suggested by Eli does not allow Jordan to have as much influence and the Jordanians have expressed their disapproval. These issues definitely showed me that science and politics are not always in agreement.  But I think this project certainly can be a symbol of peace and it has been already, as shown through the frequent meetings and cooperation within all three countries.