Three-way project to clean up the Jordan river

The lack of water-flow down the river leads to a serious problem: The Dead Sea is receding.

jordan river 88 (photo credit: )
jordan river 88
(photo credit: )
The biblical Jordan river has religious significance for Jews and Christians alike. It is where Joshua is said to have crossed into the Holy Land to conquer Jericho and is the tradional site of Jesus' baptism. However, the once strong river now resembles a sewage dump more than it lives up to its former glory. The Jordan River has lost its former strength and force because of the divertion of its water for agricultural purposes and pollution. Some areas of the river run dry during the summer because there is not enough water to coat the 60-mile stretch between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Jordan River used to receive 450 million cubic meters of water a year from the Yarmouk River, one its main tributaries. Now, the Jordan only gets 110 million cubic meters of water. Friends of the Earth Middle East is working in conjunction with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian municipal leaders, engineers, governmental ministries and other organizations to try to convince leaders to rehabilitate the Jordan. "Once we get the grassroot and community support we can get government support for our efforts," said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East. The core problem is that water from the river is being pulled for agricultural purposes in the surrounding area, in addition to the dumping of sewage, fish pond runoff and salt water into the river. Hillel Glassman, from the Israel Parks Authority, says that the damage to the river began in 1964, when Israel diverted water from the Sea of Galilee through a dam to the national water carrier. Simultaneously, Jordan started diverting water from the Yarmouk, which along with the Sea of Galilee are the main water suppliers to the Jordan. Once the new Unity Dam between Syria and Jordan becomes active the water-flow from the Yarmouk will continue to decrease. Replacing the clear, "sweet water" according to Glassman with raw sewage and salt water has completely changed the ecosystem over the past 40 years. The current ecosystem is saline based, with saline flora and other contaminants from sewage and fish pond runoff. The lack of water-flow down the 60-mile stretch between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea has partially lead to a serious problem with one of Israel's major tourist attraction. The Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth, has receded over the past few years and will continue to recede from the mineral extractions done there. The peace treaty signed by Israel and Jordan in 1994 provided provisions for both countries to maintain, rehabilitate and clean the river. No action has yet been taken in that environmental direction. One of the ways to start repairing the river is with a water treatment plant in Beit She'an. The plant, which should open in 2008, will clean the sewage water which can then be used for agricultural purposes. The water from the river has never been used for drinking water like that of the Sea of Galilee. Another water plant will be built by Emek HaYarden, but won't reach completion for another two years. Until such time, raw sewage will continue being dumped into the river as it has been for decades. Friends of the Earth Middle East and other organizations want to convince the government and prospective donators of the economic benefits of rehabilitating the river. The environmental organization and the municipal workers want to prove that the rehabilitation of the river is economically viable. The group thinks that with the rehabilitation of the river, tourism will grow. "Right now, it's a campaign to get the decision-makers to start drawing up a plan of action," said Mira Edelstein, the resource development head for Friends of the Earth Middle East. "It could only do tourism good," said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Tourism. "There's an inter-ministerial committee to handle the Dead Sea question. It's a very complex issue because of all the demands on water, but the rehabilitation of the river would only have a positive affect on tourism." The environmental organization hopes to develop Peace Island area into a bird sanctuary and park in the future. Peace Island, a plot of land near Kibbutz Gesher which Israel won in the Six Day War and returned to Jordan in the 1994 Peace Treaty, has the remains of the Palestine Electric Company hydroelectric plant on its premises. Bromberg refers to the precedent of the Hassan Industrial Park, where work IDs are used to cross from one side to the other in describing how he thinks Peace Island can become a reality. Bromberg's organization and the other groups involved want to prove it is worthy for rehabilitation and also point out that the river does not belong to one country alone. "The river doesn't belong to Israel, Palestine or Jordan," said Munqeth Mehyar, director of the Friends of the Earth Middle East in Amman during a five-day conference held earlier this month. "We owe it to the rest of the world, to our children and grandchildren to fix it. I think and hope we are on the right path to repairing it."