YNET: Jordan, Israel in advanced talks on water deal

Hashemite Kingdom, thirsty for water due to huge influx of Syrian refugees, to get Kinneret water in return for desalinated water from Aqaba plant

Roi Kais
Published: 08.22.13

Israel and Jordan are holding advanced negotiations over water exchanges between the two sides, Ynet has learned.

According to the developing outline, a water desalination plant will be built in Aqaba, and Jordan will supply Israel with the product to be used in the Negev.

In return, Israel will supply Jordan with water from the Kinneret to be used in the north of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Salinated water from Jordan in exchange for Kinneret water from Israel

This outline is meant to save Jordanians the transport costs involved in moving water from southern to northern Jordan.

The sides are attempting to create an alternative for the outline agreed upon in the 1994 peace accords, according to which Israel supplies Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of water annually.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah a-Nasour confirmed this week that the kingdom will indeed trade water with Israel. In a press conference in Amman, the prime minister said “we need water in the north, and Israel wants water in the south.”

A few weeks ago the Jordanian Water and Agriculture Minister Hazem Nasser revealed that Jordan has adopted a new plan to desalinate water from the Red Sea.

According to the minister, Jordan will issue a tender by the end of 2013 for the construction of the plant, and the laying of a pipe between it and the Dead Sea, spilling there whatever water is left.

Water shortage

The main obstacle facing the project is financial. The World Bank is ready to grant Jordan five billion dollars, but conditions it on cutting subsidies, which the kingdom has yet to comply with.

In addition, Jordan will have to come up with $2.6 billion on its own, which does not seem likely at the moment.

The project has also come under fire from environmental organizations, concerned with the possible damage to the Dead Sea should left-over water be funneled to it from the Aqaba plant.

In recent months Israel raised the amount of water it pipes to Jordan in order to help its neighbor handle the severe water shortage it is facing, also caused by the new demand posed by the gargantuan influx of Syrian refugees into the country.

The number of Syrians fleeing into Jordan from the civil war in their country has crossed the half million mark in the sparsely populated country of 6.3 million.

Improving ties

In addition to the extra three million additional cubic meters of water, Israel has also sold Jordan with 13 million cubic meters of water at cost.

“Creative ideas for the cooperation between Israel and Jordan in the field of water should be welcomed,” said Gideon Bromberg, CEO of the Friends of Earth organization, which work to tighten the ties between the two countries in environmental and water issues.

“One of the immediate benefits of the project for Israel is a future solution for water supply to Eilat and the Arava area.

“In light of the city’s expected growth and shortage of drinking water, the project exempts Israel from the need to build its own desalination plant in Eilat or connect to the National Water Carrier, steps which would carry much higher costs.

“Another immediate benefit is the improving of ties between Israel and Jordan, which creates a mutual dependency on regional stability for both sides.”

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom’s office told Ynet: “The minister is actively pushing this project forward. The matter is yet to be finalized, but it’s in its advanced stages.”

The minister’s office confirmed that a larger amount of water than agreed upon in the peace accords was transferred to Jordan, and said that “we have a chance to help to everyone’s benefit.”


JERUSALEM POST Jordanian PM: Sell future desalinated water to Israel, purchase more Kinneret water

The Kingdom of Jordan intends to sell Israel water produced by a future Jordanian desalination plant, in return for the ability to purchase an increased amount of fresh water from Israel’s Kinneret reservoir, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour declared on Monday.

Ensour made the announcement at a press conference regarding the launch of the first phase of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit project, which would consist of a desalination plant that is at least 100 million cu.m. in capacity. As part of an agreement with Israel, Jordan would sell its neighbor the desalinated water at 1 Dinar (NIS 5) per cubic meter and would purchase the Kinneret water at 0.3 Dinar (NIS 1.5) per cubic meter, Ensour explained.

Such a move would be ideal for Jordan because transferring the brunt of the water from the desalination plant near Aqaba to the country’s water starved north would be much more expensive than embarking upon this plan, the prime minister stressed.

The $980 million desalination plant, slated to be situated in Jordan’s south near Al-Risha, will draw water from the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, Ensour explained. Once desalinated, the fresh water will once again return further south toward the city of Aqaba. A portion of the desalinated water ­ as well as an additional 20 million cu.m. from the Al-Wehda Dam on the Jordanian-Syrian border ­ has thus far been allocated for the country’s densely populated northern governorates, Ensour said. The prime minister, however, is advocating the water swap with Israel in order to curb the costs associated with transferring the desalinated water to his nation’s north. It is unclear whether he intends for the swap to occur in addition to or entirely instead of desalination transports to the north.

Overall, the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit project has been highly controversial among Israelis and Jordanians ­ in Israel mainly due to environmental concerns and in Jordan mainly due to the extremely expensive cost of the project.

As the Dead Sea’s water level has been declining at a rate of more than a meter per year, the project aims to save the sea from environmental degradation while desalinating water and generating hydroelectricity at affordable prices, a World Bank feasibility study said.

According to project plans, an eastern intake site for sea water would be submerged off the coast of Aqaba, from which a combination of 180 km. worth of tunneling and pipelines would extend to the Dead Sea, with a desalination plant and two hydropower plants along the way ­ all on Jordanian land. Plans had originally called for the desalination plant to have a capacity of 320 million cu.m., rising to 850 million cu.m. by 2060 .

Although the World Bank feasibility study ­ released in January ­ does overall deem the project to be possible as well as environmentally sound with some preventative measures, other World Bank assessments offered more severe warnings. One concern among experts includes the risk that the influx of seawater and brine into the Dead Sea will change both the appearance and quality of the water, and could negatively impact the region’s ecology and hydrogeology. In addition, the report warned of the significant presence of nonrenewable energy that would be required to power the desalination plants.

Nonetheless, Water, Irrigation and Agriculture Minister Hazem Nasser described the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit project as a national program in Jordan’s strategic interest, which the kingdom has “no choice” but to implement due to overall water scarcity. Meanwhile, Jordan’s water shortage increases by 7 percent annually, Nasser added.

Water generated by the desalination plant would be sold to citizens at rates lower than water generated by the recently launched Disi Aquifer project, which now supplies Amman with an additional 100 million cu.m. of water from an ancient aquifer.

As far as the trade with Israel is concerned, Nasser explained that the two countries would not need to sign any new agreement, as the peace agreement of 1994 mandates that Israel sell to Jordan no less than 50 million cu.m. of water per year, an amount that can be redetermined. Currently, Israel provides Jordan with about 55 million cu.m. of water from Lake Kinneret each year, Nasser said.

In response to a query about the matter from The Jerusalem Post, Israeli Water Authority Spokesman Uri Schor said that “there are ongoing discussions all of time between the Jordanian and Israeli professional bodies, according to the peace agreement and the relationship between the two countries.”

“Exchanges of ideas, requests and other things are taking place not through the press,” Schor added.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director for the regional environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East, said that while his organization praises cross-border cooperation on and commerce of water, this is not the ideal path to take.

“FoEME welcomes creative ideas of water trade between Jordan and Israel and sees the potential environmental, economic and political benefits of exploring these options if done in a transparent manner,” Bromberg told the Post.

“Linking trade in water ­ Aqaba to Eilat and Kinneret to Amman with the Red-Dead project ­ however makes no sense.” Bromberg pointed specifically to one of the World Bank’s secondary studies ­ the Study of Alternatives ­ which demonstrates how the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit could cause serious environmental ramifications. Instead, his organization champions a partial restoration of the Jordan River, another solution toward rehabilitating the Dead Sea discussed in the Study of Alternatives.

“Over a decade has been lost and tens of millions of dollars spent on the Red-Dead proposal with nothing but poor results ­ environmental and economic,” Bromberg said. “The public needs to call on our governments to move on, to deal with the root causes of the demise of the Dead Sea: charging the mineral extraction industry for the water they pump out of the Dead Sea and partially restoring the Jordan River.”

Dotan Shaniv and Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.