The Dead Sea lies on the border between Israel and Jordan. Known as the Salt Sea, this famous body of water isn’t actually a sea; it is a landlocked, or terminal, lake that gets the majority of its water from the Jordan River. Among the Dead Sea’s many notable attributes, its shoreline, which sits about 1,355 feet below sea level, is the lowest point of land on the Earth’s surface.
Over the past few decades, the Dead Sea has experienced dramatic changes. It measured about 50 miles long and more than 10 miles wide in the 1950s. At that time, it had a surface area of almost 400 square miles, and its shores were about 1,300 feet below sea level.
However, the nations surrounding the sea began to divert water from the lake, causing it to shrink. In 1953, Israel built the Degania Gate dam on the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee to redirect water for drinking. In the 60s, Israel constructed a pumping station on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which reduced water flowing into the Jordan River. Shortly thereafter, Syria and Jordan began pulling water from the Yarmouk River, a major tributary that feeds into the lower Jordan River.
These projects, along with removal of the sea’s minerals for use in a variety of products and the region’s hot climate, caused the lake to start shrinking at an annual rate of about 3 feet. The Dead Sea now stretches nearly 30 miles long—20 miles shorter than it was in the 1950s.
Sinkholes are one of the consequences of lower saltwater levels. As the saltwater leaves, fresh groundwater fills up underground spaces and dissolves the salty earth, resulting in cavities that eventually collapse, creating sinkholes.
Most of the approximately 4,000 sinkholes are located on the Israeli shore to the west of the lake. These holes have swallowed cars and forced many tourist resorts in the area shore to shut down due to safety concerns.
The Red-Dead Pipeline
To address the region’s water problems, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine agreed in 2013 to join forces on a project that is known by multiple names: the Red-Dead Sea Pipeline, the Two Seas Canal, and the Red-Dead Conduit. The project, which is sponsored by the World Bank, will cost about $10 million.
The project will feature a pipeline stretching over 100 miles from the Jordanian shores of the Red Sea up to the southern tip of the Dead Sea. Along the pipeline, the water will encounter two desalination plants, two hydropower plants, and a reservoir.
The pipeline will follow the border of Jordan and Israel but be laid on Jordan’s soil. Jordan has a special interest in the project, as it is one of the world’s top-four most water-scarce countries, with more than 90 percent of its land classified as arid.
The project’s first phase will take two years and cost nearly $900 million. It should be complete by 2020.
The pipeline will be uniquely functional because the Red Sea, where the water is beginning, is located more than 1,300 feet above the Dead Sea, where the water will be traveling to. This means gravity will allow for easier water flow, and hydropower can provide electricity for communities in all three countries.
Aqaba Desalination Plant
One desalination plant, located at Jordan’s port of Aqaba, will have a capacity of up to 2 billion cubic feet annually. Desalinated water from the plant will be shared between Israel and Palestine. The resulting byproduct of brine will be mixed with saltwater, sent through the pipeline, and deposited in the Dead Sea to help raise water levels. As part of the agreement, Israel will also provide additional freshwater to Jordan from its biggest reservoir, the Sea of Galilee.
Many countries have committed to financially supporting the Red-Dead Sea Pipeline. Japan will provide $20 million worth of machinery for the project. The European Union and Italy will both provide a large grant and loan. Spain has agreed to provide a 50-million euro loan, and the United States is providing $100 million for the project.
Criticisms of the Red-Dead Pipeline
Environmentalists argue that pumping water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea will dramatically change the unique biological composition of the Dead Sea by creating bacteria and algae blooms. Many also argue that this project does nothing to address the root of the Dead Sea’s rapid drying and acts only as a temporary solution. Others highlight the fact that the project won’t provide anywhere near enough supplementary water to stabilize the sea’s water levels.