Water expert: Red-Dead 'pilot' project could be premature

Prof. Avner Adin: We don't know what consequences of pumping sea water into the Dead Sea would be.

dead sea 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dead sea 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There is no need to rush into the pilot project for the Red-Dead conduit that Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom has announced, a water expert told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. "We don't know what all the consequences of pumping sea water into the Dead Sea would be, so maybe we should take more time to explore. There are a lot of Israeli engineers and scientists with expertise who could be brought in," said Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Avner Adin, a professor of soil and water sciences and founder and past president of the Israeli Water Association. Shalom announced plans to build a "pilot" pipe 180 km long from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea on Saturday, after meeting with World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Two hundred million cubic meters (mcm) per year would be pumped through the pipe, half of which would be desalinated for Jordanian consumption and half put into the Dead Sea. Shalom said he had received a green light from the World Bank, despite the fact that the feasibility studies for the project are only set to be completed next year. A World Bank representative told the Post on Saturday night they had no knowledge of such a pilot project. In general, Adin said he was in favor of a pilot project. "There's a lot of sense in a pilot project, since it's sometimes hard to scale up from the laboratory to reality," he told the Post. "But the question is how big a pilot? According to the news reports, this is not a pilot, it's a project. I might have gone with something a bit smaller," Furthermore, "Putting 100 mcm into the Dead Sea won't make a dent in the receding water levels. However, 100 mcm for Jordan would be a major advancement." Turning to the Red-Dead conduit project as a whole, Adin cautioned against taking action until as many of the consequences had been taken into account as possible. "If you dump sea water into the Dead Sea, it could turn white as crystals form. It could also turn red from the red bacteria which give the Red Sea its name," he warned. If the project were to be implemented, Adin suggested desalinating the water first near the Eilat/Aqaba Gulf and then bringing it through the pipe to minimize potential damage if the pipe cracked. "The pipe would run through the Syrian-African Rift, which is a volcanic area with a lot of earthquakes. That means the pipe would have to be very thick, which would cost more. If the pipe cracked, then the sea water could contaminate the good groundwater below it," he said. The effect on the fish and coral of drawing that much water away from the gulf should also be examined in depth, he said. The Red-Dead conduit is not the only alternative being proposed to save the Dead Sea and provide much needed drinking water for Jordan. Many have begun to champion the return of "nature's way" - letting water run freely down the Jordan River once again into the Dead Sea. At one time, a Med-Dead canal was proposed but was eventually abandoned because of financial and ecological issues, according to Adin. "Personally, I prefer nature's way, since water flowed in those channels for thousands of years, but we have to take into consideration that letting water run down the Jordan will not be enough to fill the Dead Sea back up. It will only be enough to keep it at its current level," Adin said. The biggest factors now are the ecological considerations, and as many of them must be anticipated as possible, he concluded. Both the Megilot Regional Council and the Knesset Lobby to save the Dead Sea called on the government to hold off on the pilot project until all of the alternatives had been thoroughly examined.