by Hana Namrouqa | Feb 14, 2013 | 22:16 Updated: Feb 14, 2013 | 22:17

AMMAN — Although the final draft reports of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Programme concluded that the Red-Dead project is environmentally and economically feasible, two major concerns remain, according to the programme’s team leader.

“As the study programme nears completion, two big unknowns remain,” Alexander McPhail said at a public consultation meeting on the findings of the study programme on Thursday.

These are securing funding for the mega-multibillion-dollar scheme and identifying the impact of mixing brine rejected from the desalination of the Red Sea water with the unique mixture of the Dead Sea.

McPhail noted that the Red-Dead project is feasible economically and environmentally if it is “implemented properly”.

The study programme concluded that mixing seawater and/or desalination brine with the Dead Sea water entails risks, especially when the amounts exceed 400 million cubic metres (mcm) per year.

If more than 400mcm of brine or seawater are channelled into the Dead Sea, the future frequency and magnitude of both red algae blooms and whitening events due to precipitation of gypsum are likely to occur, it indicated.

This poses a problem because the Red-Dead project proposes pumping two billion cubic metres of water annually from the Red Sea into the rapidly depleting Dead Sea, while the study indicates that the Dead Sea requires 700mcm per year to stabilise at its current level, which dropped from -395 metres to the current level of -426 metres (below sea level).

Launched in 2008, the study programme involved the preparation of five interrelated studies: a feasibility study, an environmental and social assessment, a study of alternatives (which examined other options available to the beneficiary parties to address the degradation of the Dead Sea and the production of additional potable water by means other than the identified water conveyance option), a Red Sea modelling study and a Dead Sea modelling study.

The $10 billion Red-Dead project, which the study programmes refers to as the “identified option”, is part of international efforts to save the Dead Sea that has been shrinking at the rate of one metre per year, largely due to the diversion of water from the Jordan River for agricultural and industrial use.

“More studies need to be carried out in the future to measure the impact of mixing more than 400mcm of Red Sea water per year with the Dead Sea,” McPhail told The Jordan Times yesterday.

He noted that the movement of two billion cubic metres of seawater is another major concern, underscoring that the study programme recommends a pipeline for the conveyance of seawater between the two bodies of water.

“There has also been concern that the movement of water could cause earthquakes, to which no evidence has been found,” McPhail told more than 150 participants at the public consultation meeting.

He added that the study programme expects the formation of sinkholes on the shores of the Dead Sea to slow down if its water levels rise, noting that there are currently 3,000 sinkholes.

A sinkhole is a natural depression or hole in the Earth’s surface. They were formed because the water coming from surrounding mountains to compensate for lost water in the Dead Sea dissolved the salt underneath and created massive cavities. Sinkholes not only pose a threat to agricultural lands, but also to residents and biodiversity in the area, according to ecologists.

During Thursday’s meeting, Jordan Valley Authority Secretary General Saad Abu Hammour said the feedback from participants will be taken into consideration before announcing the final reports of the study programme by the end of March.

“The Jordanian government perceives the Red-Dead project as economically and environmentally feasible… once the final drafts are ready, the three stakeholders will meet to decide future arrangements,” Abu Hammour told reporters on the sidelines of the session.

He added that the project will be announced during the May 24-26 World Economic Forum meeting on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea.

“It will also be a good chance to raise funds for the project,” Abu Hammour told The Jordan Times.