EcoPeace slams Med-Dead Sea conduit

Dead Sea Works picture: Tamar Matzapi

Environmentalists insist the project will cause irreversible damage to the coastal and mountain aquifers, and the Dead Sea."

"After decades of discussion, it is hard to take the current proposal seriously. If it is really serious, however, it will cause irreversible and unprecedented damage to the coastal aquifer, the mountain aquifer, and the Dead Sea," said EcoPeace Middle East Israel director Gidon Bromberg, referring to the new Mediterranean Sea-Dead Sea canal plan to be presented to the cabinet for approval in the coming months. "Last month, they were talking about a casino, and now it's a revised plan for the Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal. It's just tall tales."

Bromberg was speaking following yesterday's exclusive report in "Globes" that Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22), Mekorot National Water Company, and a group of private developers were currently formulating a new plan for building a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea. The plan is being examined by an inter-ministerial team coordinated by Prime Minister's Office director general Eli Groner. It is believed that if the cabinet approves it, IEC and Mekorot want to be partners in both ownership of the project and the work on it. Under the current plan, 100 kilometers of tunnels will be dug to transport water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea. The plan also includes a 1,500-megawatt underground hydroelectric power plant (producing electricity from water power) for exploiting the difference in height between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

"The coastal aquifer and the mountain aquifer are the two most important aquifers in the country. They supply hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water a year for both drinking and agriculture. The current plan involves tunnels that will harm both of them," Bromberg argues. He explains that tunnels are never hermetic, and seawater will definitely seep into the sweet groundwater. "The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal agreement signed last year by Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) also jeopardizes the groundwater, but at least there, the danger involves 50 million cubic meters, not hundreds of millions of cubic meters. Previous efforts to promote a canal between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea failed for exactly these reasons."

"A violation of an agreement"

A Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal is not a new idea. Israel promoted this alternative for moving water from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea in the 1980s, and even raised a loan for it in the US from Israel Bonds. The project was terminated, however, after the UN General Assembly resolved that digging the canal would cause environmental damage to both Jordan and the PA. A past assessment by the World Bank pointed in the same direction. Israel therefore signed in 2013 a letter of intent with Jordan and the PA to promote a canal for transporting water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. This canal was planned to pass exclusively through Jordanian territory. An agreement for this was signed last year.

"Jordan will not allow the new plan to go ahead, and will regard it as a violation of the agreement," says Bromberg, whose organization also represents Jordanian and Palestinian activists. "Beyond the damage to the aquifer, there will also be damage to the Dead Sea. All the Mediterranean sea salt will also damage it. The Dead Sea has always received sweet water from the Jordan River, and receiving water from the Mediterranean Sea will affect the Dead Sea's balance.

"Without the consent of Jordan and the PA, investors and international companies will oppose the project, and will not invest a dollar in it. Under international law for managing a common basin, it is necessary to obtain the consent of all parties."

As an example, Bromberg cites Royal HaskoningDHV, the largest engineering and infrastructure company in the Netherlands, which announced in September 2013 that it was withdrawing from the wastewater purification project it had planned jointly with the Jerusalem municipality, because the project was planned to take place over the Green Line. "Just one month before the company announced that it was calling off the project, the Dutch government declared that it involved a violation of international law. The same thing will happen with this project," Bromberg argues.

Greenpeace Israel is also critical of the new plan. "The government is liable to get us into exactly the kind of project that we thought we know everything about, but in retrospect it became clear that the experts knew nothing about," the organization says. "We must not allow a repetition 50 years later of what happened with the drying of the Hula Valley swamps by putting entire ecological systems in real jeopardy."

How can the Dead Sea, the level of which is falling by one meter every year, be saved? Bromberg said the answer is simple. "If it is so important for the government to save the Dead Sea, the problem itself must be addressed," he says. "Pumping by Dead Sea Works is responsible for 50% of the damage caused to the Dead Sea each year; in other words, it lowers its level by half a meter every year. While we pay NIS 9 per cubic meter of water, they get the water for free. Who ever heard of such a thing? I'm not opposed to Dead Sea Works, but they have to be given an incentive to save water. Then they'll have to become more efficient and use different technologies, like membrane technology, which helps separate the salt from the water, thereby reducing the quantity of water pumped."

Bromberg mentions another measure the state should take in order to rehabilitate the Dead Sea: rehabilitation of the southern Jordan River by pouring water from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) into it. "Israel has plenty of water now; it is actually the only country in the Middle East with a water surplus," he says. "The surplus water can be used to stabilize the Dead Sea."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 21, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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Dead Sea Works picture: Tamar Matzapi
Dead Sea Works picture: Tamar Matzapi
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