Jordan to manufacture desalinated water in Aqaba and channel brine waste byproduct to Dead Sea; environmental group questions economics of the deal.
By Zafrir Rinat | Dec. 9, 2013

Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on a pipeline project Monday in Washington, under which Israel will supply Jordan with freshwater and Jordan will manufacture desalinated water in the Aqaba area and channel the brine waste byproduct to the Dead Sea.

The amount of water to be channeled to the Dead Sea under the agreement is only one-seventh the amount required to stabilize its rapidly falling level, however.

The environmental umbrella group Friends of the Earth Middle East has questioned the economics of the deal, saying that channeling the brine hundreds of kilometers to the north will significantly raise the cost of the Aqaba desalination, which is meant to increase Jordan’s water supply.

But the cost of building and operating the brine pipeline will be covered by donations and a bridge loan from the World Bank, not by the salination facility, according to Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Ministry.

The pipeline is meant to be only the first step in a more extensive project, but ministry officials say the next stage, which involving additional pipes that would bring far greater amounts of brine water to the Dead Sea, will not be taking place in the foreseeable future.

The project is not considered a revival of plans for the costly and complex “Red-Dead Canal” linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, which would require the construction of much larger desalination facilities and power plants than are currently in place.

Jordan would need an infusion of billions of dollars to fund such a project, since it cannot afford to increase the price of water and electricity in a bid to further raise the level of the Dead Sea.

In addition, a number of unanswered environmental questions have been raised regarding the full Red-Dead project: What will happen to the Dead Sea when a large amount of water with a different makeup flows into it? Will gypsum crystals develop in the water, as experts have warned? Will algae change the water’s color?

Experts say that up to 400 million cubic meters of additional water will apparently have no negative effect. But that’s not enough water to save the Dead Sea, just to slow its decline.