Israel Environment Ministry Urges Caution on Dead Sea Pipeline

Israel’s environment chief urged caution before accepting a World Bank recommendation for a Red Sea to Dead Sea pipeline, saying that while the conduit may stem the loss of water, the salty inland lake may also suffer irrevocable damage.

“The Dead Sea is a unique, rare natural resource and a rash decision not based on firm facts and in-depth study is liable to completely destroy it and all tourism to the region,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said today in an e-mailed statement.

The recommendation on how to stop the Dead Sea from further deterioration was the result of a study by Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli policymakers working under the auspices of the World Bank to find ways to halt the drying up of a lake whose restorative powers attracted visitors since biblical days.

The feasibility report, posted on the World Bank website last month, said the cost of the project, including a 110-mile (177-kilometer) pipeline, would be about $10 billion, with potential leakage of seawater into underground aquifers one of the biggest risks.

“Based on a weighted multi-criteria process, the pipeline conveyance, combined with a high-level desalination plant, is the recommended optimum solution,” the World Bank report said.

The Environment Ministry said the Geological Survey of Israel has found the flow of seawater into the Dead Sea brine at amounts stipulated in the report would lead to an outbreak of bacteria and algae that would cause a strong stench. Gypsum would be another byproduct of the project, it said.

Japan Comparison

Friends of Earth Middle East said the World Bank feasibility study “failed to adequately consider the precautionary principles when evaluating this project.” It compared the potential decision to go ahead with the project to Japan’s decision to build nuclear facilities ultimately damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

“This is an example of the underestimation of the power of nature in an earthquake zone not dissimilar to that of the Dead Sea area,” the Friends of Earth group said in a statement.

Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of the group, pointed to a separate World Bank report on the Dead Sea last month that raised alternatives to the Red Sea pipeline. Options included desalination, water conservation reforms such as wastewater reuse, water pricing and partial rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River that flows into the Dead Sea.

The Study Alternatives Report also recommended that the chemical industry in Israel and Jordan be charged for their water consumption. The report didn’t mention companies by name. Israel’s main fertilizer maker is Dead Sea Works, owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd., and in Jordan, Arab Potash Co.

Playing ‘God?’

The Friends of Earth group said the report on alternatives should be studied as its proposals can stabilize the Dead Sea, dropping at a rate of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) a year, “without the risk of undertaking an experiment that constitutes ‘playing God’ by mixing two seas, leading to likely irreversible damage to the environment and the political instability of unparalleled public debt.”

Erdan called for a pilot project before any decisions are taken. The Friends group and ministry commented on the World Bank proposal ahead of consultations on the Dead Sea scheduled in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting later this month.

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