Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal
The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal (sometimes called the Two Seas Canal) is a proposed canal which would run from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and provide electricity and potable water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This proposal has a major role in plans for economic cooperation between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, through the Peace Valley plan. The water level in Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of more than one metre per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the diversion of about 90% of the water volume in the Jordan River. In the early 1960s, the river moved 1.5 billion cubic metres of water every year from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. But dams, canals and pumping stations built by Israel and Jordan to divert water for crops and drinking have reduced the flow to about 100 million cubic metres.
A shorter route for a canal to stop the Dead Sea from shrinking, the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal, has been proposed in Israel, but was discarded due to high investment costs of the needed long tunnel.
On May 9, 2005 Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to go ahead with a feasibility study for the Two Seas Canal. The agreement was signed on the Dead Sea by Jordanian Water Minister Raed Abu Soud, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan al-Khatib.
In June 2009, after a meeting with World Bank President Robert Zoellick, the Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister, Silvan Shalom, announced a pilot project to build a "pilot" pipe 180 km long from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The pipe would pump 200 million cubic meters per year. Half of this would be desalinated for Jordanian consumption and half put into the Dead Sea..
In October 2009 the Jordanian government announced that it would unilaterally tender a Jordan Red Sea Project. According to the government, this project could be considered as the first phase of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project. The consulting firm that carries out the feasibility study, Coyne and Bellier, expressed its surprise at the decision to go ahead with the project before the feasibility study was completed. But the Jordanian government said it could not wait any longer. The project is to be implemented by a private company under authority granted by the government. The project would also serve as an economic development project to create housing for 1.36 million people south of Amman, at the Southern end of the Dead Sea, north of Aqaba and in gated communities. Also, several touristic resorts would be created. It is divided into five phases. The first phase would include extraction of 400 million cubic meters of seawater per year, resulting in 210 million cubic metres/year of freshwater and 190 million cubic metres/year for discharge into the Dead Sea. The construction of the first phase is expected to take 7 years. In March 2011 the Ministry of Water and Irrigation short-listed six firms for the first phase of the project.
Project features and benefits
The proposed canal would pump seawater 230 meters uphill from the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan and then run down into the Dead Sea, which lies about 420 m below sea level. The project will consist of about 525km of seawater and bring conveyance pipelines along the Arabah valley in Jordan and 348km of freshwater conveyance pipelines. It includes water desalination plants and hydropower plants. In its ultimate phase the Jordan Red Sea Project would provide 930 million cubic meters of freshwater per year for Jordan. It would require 995 MW of electric generating capacity and would provide 180 MW through hydropower, making the project a large net energy users. The net energy demand would have to be satisfied through power projects whose costs is not included in the project costs. Jordan plans to build a nuclear reactor which may supply these power needs.
Costs and financing
The project cost estimates vary from two to ten billion dollars depending on its structure and stages. The first phase of the Jordan Red Sea Project is expected to cost US$2 billion. It is expected to be financed to a large extent from commercial sources, including debt and equity. Since water tariffs in Jordan are low, the private investors are expected to earn revenues largely from residential, touristic, commercial and industrial real estate developments that would be built near the route of the canal.
The transfer of mass volumes of water from one sea to another, can bear drastic consequences on the unique natural characteristics of each of the two seas, as well as the desert valley which separates them, the Arabah. Some of these characteristics, especially in the Dead Sea area, are unique on a global perspective, and therefore crucially important for conservation. The environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East has protested against the allegedly premature approval of the project, without sufficient assessment of the project's impact on the natural environment of the area. The group lists several potential hazardous effects of the project on the unique natural systems of the Red Sea, the Dead Sea and the Arabah. These effects include:
- Damage to the unique natural system of the Dead Sea, due to mixing its water with Red Sea water, or brines created from the process of desalinating Red Sea water which has a different chemical composition. This includes changes in water salinity, massive formation of gypsum, formation of volatile toxic compounds, change in water evaporation rates, changes in the composition of bacteria and algae which inhabit the sea surface, chemical changes in the rocks which surround the water, and loss of unique health benefits that account for much of the tourist attraction to the Dead Sea area.
- Damage to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to water pumping.
- Damage to the natural landscape and ecosystem of the Arabah, due to the construction, and the increase in humidity caused by the open canal segments.
- Damage to the aquifer of the Arabah, due to contamination of groundwater with water from the Red Sea. The alluvial deposits in Wadi Araba contain important supplies of fresh water. In the event that the pipeline ruptures (as might happen in the case of an earthquake), these aquifers will be irreparably damaged. This can bear fatal consequences to both the agriculture and ecosystem of the Arabah.
- Threats to archeological heritage. The pipeline will cross areas of important cultural heritage, such as Wadi Finan, where the earliest copper mining and extraction in the world took place.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Avner Adin said more studies were needed on the potential environmental impact. Israeli environmental NGOs say that the reestablishment of the Jordan River to its natural state was a better solution to the decline of the Dead Sea than the proposed canal.
The proposal has also generated some concern in Egypt, which believes that the canal will increase seismic activity in the region; provide Israel with water for cooling its nuclear reactor near Dimona; turn the Negev Desert in to a settlement area and increase the salinity of wells.
References and Links
- ^ Jpost article on Silvan Shalom announcement, jpost.com, 6/28/09.
- ^ The Telegraph:Jordan to refill shrinking Dead Sea with salt water, October 10, 2009, retrieved on May 12, 2011
- ^ a b Jordan Red Sea Project:Jordan Red Sea Project Description, retrieved on May 11, 2011
- ^ "On the possible negative impacts of the project on the natural environment of the Dead Sea and Arava Valley". foeme.org. Archived from the original on 2007-04-05. http://web.archive.org/web/20070405233944/http://foeme.org/projects.php?ind=51. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
- ^ Water expert: Red-Dead 'pilot' project could be premature, By EHUD ZION WALDOKS, Jun 28, 2009.
- ^ Jerusalem Post editorial, June 28, 2009
- ^ Environmentalists slam World Bank over Red-Dead canal - Rory Kress, August 12, 2007 The Jerusalem Post
- ^ "Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal could Cause Quakes -Official". planetark.com. http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/31801/newsDate/27-Jul-2005/story.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-17.
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