The discussions over an appropriate solution to rising water levels in the southern Dead Sea flared up again in Israel last Wednesday as representatives of 14 hotel owners and environmentalists urged the government to abandon plans to raze and then reconstruct hotels.
Both the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI) and the Union for Environmental Defense support harvesting the excess salt built up by Dead Sea Works’ mining activities that have caused water levels to rise rather than creating an expensive and uninviting construction zone that will send potential tourists to Jordan, where no such drama exists.Since the 1950s, the Dead Sea Works, which was previously the Palestinian Salt Works destroyed in the 1948 Israeli war of independence and relocated to the southern end of the Dead Sea, has been mining the Dead Sea for various minerals including salt, potash, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride, according to the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine.
A branch of Israel Chemicals, owned by the Ofer family, listed by Forbes as one of the wealthiest families in the world, the Dead Sea Works’ were not required to manage the increasing salt built up as a result of their mining activities.
While the company is said to contribute to Dead Sea preservation, its profit has now led to a problem that threatens 4,000 hotels in the Pan No. 5 area, where water levels have been rising on average 20cm each year.
The state began discussing solutions to the problem in 2004, one of which was to relocate the hotel. Other solutions include salt harvesting or the creation of a lagoon. The most popular solution among environmentalists and hotel owners is to harvest the salt now rather than later.
Present at last Wednesday’s press conference, Haaretz quoted the SPNI spokesperson:
Nir Papay of SPNI argues that salt will need to be harvested from the Dead Sea from 2030, and moving the hotels is a bad idea, so harvesting should start now. Papay also argues that the Dead Sea Preservation Government Company erred in calculating the cost of harvesting the salt: It wouldn’t take as many dredges as the company claims, he said. Everything from the electricity that would be consumed to the construction materials needed for dredging has been overstated, he claimed. Nor would they cause a nuisance to the hotels, Papay summed up.
The Dead Sea Preservation Government Company was established in 2008 in order to address the problems. On their website, they claim to be an independent government body with no ties to Dead Sea Works, so any solutions will be generated by the collaboration of engineering and environmental professionals.
Hotel owners, represented by Eli Gonen, claimed that the relocation option will take many long and expensive years and that the country will subsequently lose its Dead Sea tourism dollars to Jordan.