Israel, Jordan advance $800m. Red-Dead canal, water swapping project

Environmentalist argues that conveying brine to the Dead Sea could cause irreparable damage to the basin.

December 1, 2015 20:42
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazim El-Naser on Monday

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazim El-Naser on Monday, on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea near the Crowne Plaza Hotel.. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)


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Taking a step to advance a cross-border water swapping and sharing partnership, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazim El Naser announced the issuance on Monday of initial tendering documents for the forthcoming “Red-Dead” project.

The ministers met on Monday on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, where they jointly launched a prequalification tender for the plans – printed in various local and international media on Tuesday. The tender, they explained, will enable the advancement of the $800 million project that will supply water to both countries, as well as increase the flow of water into the Dead Sea, which has been suffering a severe depletion.

“Today we took a further historic step to save the Dead Sea,” Shalom said on Monday.

“The joint international tender that will be published [Tuesday] is proof of the cooperation between Israel and Jordan, and an answer to all those who doubted that the Red-Dead project would be realized.”

Bringing a long-awaited deal to fruition, Israel and Jordan signed a bilateral agreement on February 26 to exchange water and funnel Red Sea desalination brine to the Dead Sea.

The initial phase of the plan involves constructing a 65 million cubic meter desalination plant in Aqaba, from which Jordan will use 30 MCM annually and Israel will be able to purchase 35 MCM to convey to its desert south. Once that plant is expanded to 85 MCM, Israel will be able to buy 50 MCM from the facility, a spokesman for Shalom said.

In return for Israel’s southern allowances, Jordan will be able to buy an additional 50 MCM of Lake Kinneret water from Israel annually, roughly doubling its current allocation and serving its increasingly thirsty northern population.

The brine, or residual hyper-saline water, generated from the Aqaba desalination facility is slated to be pumped northward along a 200-km.

pipeline on the Jordanian side of the border, serving to replenish the Dead Sea.

“This is an extraordinary environmental and political achievement that indicates the fruitful partnership between the countries,” Shalom said. “The tender calls for international companies to present their candidacy for the construction of this historic project.”

Shalom credited the World Bank, the United States and several European countries for their partnership and financial assistance in moving the plans forward.

In the tender published jointly by the Jordanian and Israeli governments on Tuesday, Jordan’s Water and Irrigation Ministry and the Jordan Valley Authority call for “qualified companies and consortia of investors and developers” to submit relevant prequalification documents for “the development and execution of The Red Sea - Dead Sea Water Project (Phase I)” on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.

Given the title “Phase I,” the project technically serves as a pilot for a potentially expanded version of the program, with greater desalination output and more brine flowing to the Dead Sea, and other possible additions.

The tender details the necessary construction of both the desalination plant north of the Aqaba airport and the pipeline conveyance system, as well as a potential grid-connected hydroelectric power station “if it is so decided.” Building such a power station, the spokesman for Shalom explained, will occur subject to both feasibility checks and the cost of the pipeline.

The winning bidder of the tender, which must be a private sector company or consortium, will be tasked with establishing a “special-purpose company under Jordanian law” to manage and execute the project, and will be responsible for securing all necessary financing “without any recourse to the Water and Irrigation Ministry,” the tender says. The ministry, however, will be soliciting international financial institutions for grant funding to back the brine disposal and transfer to the Dead Sea.

Interested parties are able to contact the Jordanian Water and Irrigation Ministry and Jordan Valley Authority for the necessary prequalification documents and further instructions from Tuesday through January 30, and must pay a non-refundable fee of 1,000 Jordanian Dinars ($1,400). The final submission date is March 30, according to the tender.

Although environmentalists praise the idea of the water-swapping system, many object to the idea of conveying the residual desalination brine to the Dead Sea.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director for EcoPeace Middle East (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East), welcomed the construction of the desalination plant, but argued that conveying the brine to the Dead Sea could cause irreparable damage to the basin. EcoPeace has long argued that mixing brine with Dead Sea water could alter its unique chemistry, and instead favors releasing more water from the Jordan River to replenish the salty basin.

“We should welcome the desire to build the desalination plant, but at the same time, tying the decision to advance megalomaniacal and environmentally destructive projects like the intention to pump water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea is problematic and unnecessary,” Bromberg said. “In the current tender it is unclear who will finance the pipeline’s construction, and it is unclear why there is a need to connect the idea of the Red- Dead canal with establishing desalination plants and regional programs for water exchanges.”

Munqeth Mehyar, the Jordanian director of EcoPeace, similarly voiced his support for the water exchange portion of the project, but also said he felt that the project will fail to save the Dead Sea.

The organization’s Palestinian director, Nader Khateeb, was even more distressed by the plans, in part due to the complete lack of Palestinian inclusion in the project. A memorandum of understanding for the project signed in December 2013 had initially involved the Palestinian Authority, calling for Israel to enable the direct sale of an additional 20 MCM of water from the Mekorot national water company to the PA.

“Although we didn’t support the larger Red-Dead canal project for environmental reasons to begin with, we have been completely sidelined today; it continues to ignore riparian rights of Palestinians on the Dead Sea and the Palestinians’ fair share of water allocation,” Khateeb said. “We cannot support the advancement of this project.”

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