The 20 million tons of salt that burden the southern portion of the Dead Sea and
are likely to eventually cause flooding at the local hotels must be harvested
and dumped in the northern portion of the sea, an expert panel of
environmentalists said in a report released this week.
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operational efficiency as it harvests minerals from its evaporation ponds, the
Dead Sea Works is perpetually pumping in water to the southern portion of the
sea, which has caused water levels in the area to rise at a rate of about 200
millimeters per year, explained Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research.
the study along with Agriculture Ministry researcher Prof. Uri Mingelgrin and
planner Moti Kaplan.
Without adding this extra water, the southern part
of the Dead Sea would all but disappear, Tal said. But with this increased
amount of liquid, the company also must build an additional meter of embankment
walls every five years to prevent overflow of the water into the hotels, he
“You have to mine a lot of raw materials to make a giant wall
around the basin,” Tal told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday, adding that a wall
can also only be built so high. “Hotels at tourist area of Ein Bokek filed a
legal petition with the High Court saying that in a few years’ time, ‘Our
lobbies will be flooded.’” The Dead Sea Preservation Government Company, a
branch of the Tourism Ministry, therefore commissioned Tal and his co-authors to
determine the most environmentally safe method of addressing this
Their choices: Build a lagoon for water drainage eastward to
maintain the current water level, mine all of the salt out of the area, or flood
the hotels and rebuild them on higher ground, Tal said.
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environmentally sound method, the team determined, was the second – using
dredges to mine all the 20 million annual tons of salt out of the southern
basin’s Pan. No. 5, grinding it up, and sending it along a conveyor belt to be
buried in the northern Dead Sea, which isn’t lined with tourist
For the committee, the idea of destroying and rebuilding the
hotels was out of the question, as this would require a huge amount of raw
materials mined out of the Negev Desert.
“This would cause irreversible
damage to the desert and its ecology,” Tal said.
agreed with this and touted the report in general.
“Harvesting salt is
the preferred environmental solution and is the only way to maintain the
equilibrium between the continued function of Dead Sea Works and the prevention
of harm to hotel operations and nature in the region,” the Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel said in a statement.
“This option does not
require wide-scale mining and excavation operations from Judean Desert streams,
like the other option would, and therefore, from an environmental standpoint it
is a significantly better option.”
Although the dredging technique is
quite expensive – NIS 6.5 billion over the next 20 years – in terms of
“meta-sustainability,” it actually saves time and money, according to the
“In 15 years’ time you’re going to have to do this dredging
anyway,” Tal said. “You can’t build up the walls forever. You’re just
But within the dredging, engineers would have to plan where
exactly the conveyor belt with begin – across Nahal Tse’elim or along the
southern tip of the basin, which Tal prefers.
“We don’t want to allow the
Dead Sea Works to expand beyond its present area,” he said, explaining that
since the southern basin is already “unnatural,” there’s no reason to target
The team believes that Dead Sea Works should pay for 100
percent of the dredging costs.
“The Israel Corporation [owner of Dead Sea
Works] and the Ofer brothers [who hold the largest stake in the company] have
made a more than modest fortune on the recent sale of phosphate and other
minerals from the Dead Sea Works. And that’s completely legitimate,” Tal said.
“But under the ‘polluter pays’ principle, it certainly means that Dead Sea Works
needs to take full responsibility for an environmentally sustainable solution to
the present Dead Sea crisis.”
MK Dov Henin (Hadash), chairman of the
Knesset’s Environmental and Health Committee, welcomed the report and also
stressed that there is a pressing need to make sure that the production plants
bear the expense of their harvests according to the “polluter pays” principle,
Henin’s spokesman said.
“The report reinforces that which we already
knew, that the harvesting of salt is the only sustainable solution that will
take care of the Dead Sea in the long run,” said Gideon Bromberg, director of
Friends of the Earth Middle East. “Only recently the Tourism Ministry received a
significant budget to promote the Dead Sea in the New Seven Wonders of Nature
competition; due to its consciousness of the resource’s significance, the
tourism minister must prove that it is taking the responsibility for caring for
the Dead Sea and adopt the obvious conclusions – beginning the harvest
immediately and without superfluous delays, while charging the plants with the
Amit Bracha, executive director of the Israel Union for
Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V’din), agreed, saying “It is well known that
the industrial operations of Dead Sea Works will contribute not only to the rise
in the level of the southern basin, but also in the drop in the level of the
north,” and that “the tourism minister has an obligation to adopt the
recommendations of the report.”
The company may have the rights to mine
all the minerals from the area, “but this doesn’t mean that they can continue to
wreak environmental havoc in order to maximize the profit,” Tal said.
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