The Israel Chamber of Commerce recently requested that the government reinvestigate a project to connect the Dead Sea and Mediterranean Sea. In a joint letter to Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, Chamber president Uriel Lynn argued that the project would have multiple benefits. Apart from augmenting water flows to the ever-dwindling Dead Sea, Lynn noted the project would improve the environment, tourism and agriculture and produce energy.
The idea is not new. Known as the “Med-Dead” project, it has been kicked around by engineers and environmental experts for decades. In response to Lynn’s letter, Minister Landau wrote that his office had been conducting a feasibility study for a similar project, the “Red-Dead” canal, which would connect the Dead Sea with the Red Sea.
The Israeli government conducted a feasibility study of the Med-Dead Canal in the 1970s and nearly began construction. However, it never went forward due to financial concerns and trans-boundary issues with Jordan – the Dead Sea straddles the Jordanian border.
Ultimately, as noted in Landau’s response, the government determined that the Red-Dead project was more promising. A canal beginning at the Red Sea could provide source water for desalination and hydroelectric power in addition to filling the Dead Sea’s water deficit.
And now a team of scientists from the World Bank, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are determining whether the plan is economically feasible – and if so, at what environmental cost. That long-awaited recommendation may soon be in the hands of the Prime Minister.
Migration impossible, and salt leakage possible
But either plan is fraught with difficulties. For example, saltwater leakage from the canal system could result in groundwater contamination. Construction and maintenance of the project could disturb wildlife – many species are sensitive to noise and dust. And the canal itself will likely obstruct wildlife corridors, making migration for many species nearly impossible. The intake system for the Red-Dead project could disturb sensitive coral communities, which line the seashore in the city of Eilat.
This is to say nothing of the massive untested experiment of taking saltwater from one place and moving it to another. What effect will it have on the water column? Might this canal carry non-native species into the heart of Israel, possibly wreaking havoc on the ecosystems there?
Meanwhile, a Dead Sea Restoration bill floating around the Knesset for some time has died. For the second time, the Cabinet rejected the legislation, which would have funded a comprehensive rehabilitation of the struggling water body. The measure was introduced to maintain water levels in the northern basin, conserve natural resources in the area, and rearrange the system of mineral extraction to ensure the Dead Sea’s protection.
Sinkholes good for the environment, one MK claims
According to Environment Minister Erdan’s office, Minister Bennie Begin of the Likkud party stated during the cabinet discussion that the Dead Sea was not a “catastrophe” and the sinkholes from receding waters were attracting tourists to the area.
This action came shortly after the Cabinet approved a mining agreement between the Dead Sea Works and the Finance Ministry. Pursuant to that pact, a full salt harvest will occur this year with the company shouldering 80% of the financing and the government receiving 10% royalties.
While the Red-Dead report is dragged out and politicians insist on milking every mineral, the Dead Sea shrivels and buckles. But nobody seems particularly interested in restoring the one Million year old water body to a state anywhere near its historic vigor.
This icon of Israel is visited by tourists the world over. They marvel at its buoyancy and the healing properties of its mud. It is a natural wonder and a unique resource. Perhaps one day the government will understand its worth. But for now, the promise of energy production, desalination and mineral royalties seem to have trumped it.
Above image via Wikipedia illustrates a hydro pump system that stores reserve energy.