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A long-discussed plan to stretch a canal from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea will be advanced in a Jerusalem meeting called by the World Bank on August 12 that will be open to the public, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Similar meetings will be held in Amman and Ramallah.
The Dead Sea''s shores are shared by Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, who formed a committee with the World Bank to sponsor a $15 million study on building a canal to bring water from the Red Sea.
The proposal includes plans to connect the Red Sea and Dead Sea via pipeline and open canal through the Arava Valley, a desalination plant at the Dead Sea, and the largest water pumping station in the world between Aqaba and Eilat.
The current proposal includes a desalination plant at the Dead Sea end of the canal to produce drinking water for Amman, leading environmental NGOs to speculate that the plant is the primary motivation behind the plan. Pumping the fresh water to Jerusalem would be uneconomic.
The plan would also call for construction of the largest pumping station in the world on the Gulf of Aqaba, to bring 1.8 billion cubic meters of sea water a year into the canal. By comparison, Israel's National Water Carrier brings 200 million to 400 million cubic meters a year from Lake Kinneret to the center of the country.
For Israel, more water is not necessarily better, said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East. The desalination plant design is economically flawed, he said, because while it would produce more than ample drinkable water, it would be at the lowest point on Earth. To pump the water from the desalination station up the more than 1,000 meters of elevation to Jerusalem, for example, would cost $1 to $1.50 per cubic meter - almost a dollar more than a cubic meter of water currently costs in Israel, he said.
The project's economic irrationality is the primary reason that no construction has moved forward over the past decade of discussions, according to Bromberg. "It could be a great idea to produce [potable] water, but you're producing it at the lowest point on Earth," he said.
It could also have major ramifications for the environment.
The pipeline and open canal carrying sea water from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea would run above the Arava Valley Aquifer - the lifeline of the valley and its kibbutzim. The Arava Valley is on a major fault-line. Should the area suffer an earthquake, the pipeline could rupture, its contents contaminating the groundwater.
According to Dr. Clive Lipchin, research director at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura, seawater is the main threat to the Arava groundwater: "The Arava is the only region in the country that is not connected to the national water carrier," leaving groundwater as the only source of water, he said.
President Shimon Peres, who has supported a Dead-Red canal for many years, reiterated in his inaugural address on July 15 his intention to build three lakes in the Arava Valley and turn it into a tourist hotspot - a proposal that Lipchin said should be investigated with great caution.
"There is no definitive research that this project could actually stabilize the water level of the Dead Sea," said Lipchin, "We need to minimize the uncertainty before we can move forward."
Friends of the Earth Middle East has been working for the past decade to save the Dead Sea. According to the NGO, the latest proposal is estimated by the World Bank to cost $5 billion.
Friends of the Earth hopes to spur research into what they believe is the most viable option, to rehabilitate the Jordan River, the "existing pipeline that has fed the Dead Sea since time immemorial," said Bromberg. "If we prevent the demise of the Dead Sea we could rehabilitate the Jordan River and also create a tourist industry around a river that now is little more than a sewage canal."