by Hana Namrouqa | Jan 30, 2013

AMMAN — The Dead Sea and its unique environment will witness continued deterioration if stakeholders of the Red-Dead project adopt a “no action alternative approach”, a recent study concluded.

The World Bank-led study of alternatives, part of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme, warned of the economic, environmental and social costs if the decline of the Dead Sea and the imminent deficit of potable water in Jordan are not addressed.

“With no action, the sea level is expected to drop by another 150 metres until it will stabilise as a much smaller water body at a level of about 543 metres below sea level by the mid 22nd century,” the study indicated.

The study only provides a comparative analysis of alternatives to the Red–Dead project, not a recommended course of action for the beneficiary parties to follow, according to its authors.

“The ‘No Action’ alternative will lead Jordan to seek other ways to increase the supply of potable water. The most likely course of action is to desalinate in Aqaba and convey the desalinated water to Amman, possibly expanding the Disi-Amman pipeline (currently under construction) for water conveyance,” the study said.

Noting that the progressive decline in the Dead Sea level has resulted in a retreat of the shoreline and dehydration of the shallow southern basin, the study said this has resulted in sinkholes, mud flats, steep slopes and earthquake-associated landslides.

“Not taking any measures to change the situation will cause the continued deterioration of the Dead Sea and its environment,” the study warned.

Since the 1960s, the level of the Dead Sea has dropped by more than 30 metres and today it stands at 426 metres below sea level. The Dead Sea is currently declining by more than a metre a year and stabilising at the current level requires additional water inflow of 700-800 million cubic metres (mcm) per year, according to the study.

The Red-Dead project envisages transferring up to 2 billion cubic metres of sea water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea annually.

Red-Dead project

The study, which is posted on the World Bank’s website, examined the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project and estimated the cost per cubic metre of water after its completion to range between $1.1 and $1.5.

Commenting on the project, the study indicated that an issue of a potentially major concern was the risk that the influx of seawater and rejected brine into the Dead Sea would change the appearance and water quality of the Dead Sea, damaging its value as a heritage site of international importance.

Jordan River rehabilitation option

Restoring the lower Jordan River is a desirable goal with high environmental, historical and cultural values, the study said, noting that full restoration to historic flows would also address the first objective of saving the Dead Sea but was not “economically or socially feasible at this time”.

Full restoration of the water flow of over one billion cubic metres per year, based on recycled water, will become feasible in the long run, as the supply of potable water increases to meet the needs of the growing population, according to the study.

Transfer of Mediterranean Sea water

A northern alignment to transfer Mediterranean Sea water to the Dead Sea is not considered feasible, the study said, because its course would pass through fertile valleys that overlay sensitive aquifers and entail serious environmental risks associated with conveying salt water across tracts where groundwater is used for domestic and industrial purposes and to provide some vital complementary irrigation services.

Transfer of water from Turkey

“The reliability of supplies of potable water in Turkey is the key issue,” the study said, noting that cost-effective wise, delivering potable water by land from Turkey doesn’t seem to be competitive with well-installed and managed desalination systems located in the beneficiary parties.

Transfer of Euphrates River water

While a structure to convey reasonably high-quality water from the Euphrates River in Iraq would be technically and economically feasible, the volume of water (160mcm per year) proposed in studies undertaken in the 1990s would be too small even to address the volumes of potable water needed in the Jordan Basin, the authors of the study pointed out.

“Today, Iraq cannot spare any water from the Euphrates River as the flow has been significantly reduced as a consequence of water abstraction from the river in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.”

Desalination options

The study team suggested five desalination and transfer options. The first proposes desalinating Mediterranean Sea water on the Mediterranean coast and transferring it to the Lower Jordan River and the Dead Sea region.

The study said the use of potable water for Dead Sea stabilisation would not be a viable or a desirable strategy as long as the beneficiary parties experience acute shortages of potable water.

The second option is to transfer Mediterranean Sea water to the Jordan Valley for local desalination.

“This alternative is problematic because the course of the water conveyance would pass through fertile valleys that overlay sensitive aquifers,” the study concluded.

Meanwhile, the third and fourth options entail increasing the amounts of desalinated Mediterranean Sea water on the coast or desalinating Red Sea water in the Gulf of Aqaba and transferring it for use by the three beneficiary parties to reduce pumping from the Lower Jordan River.

The study also examined the Jordan Red Sea Project (JRSP), proposed by the Kingdom, as one of the options.

Although the JRSP is an alternative that was not included in the terms of reference for the study, the authors said it has become a well-known alternative in the last two years and would be a “Jordan only” initiative, not involving Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

Alternatives considered

The Dead Sea is now declining by more than a metre every year. Since the 1960s, it dropped by over 30 metres. It will continue shrinking at a faster pace if no action is taken to save it. Alternatives to save it include:

•Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance

•Jordan River rehabilitation

•Mediterranean Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance

•Transfer of potable water from Turkey by pipeline

•Transfer of potable water from the Euphrates River in Iraq by pipeline

•Desalination Options