A million years ago, a major earthquake created the Syrian-African Rift. The Dead Sea sank deep into the valley and was deprived of its natural outflow to the sea. Today, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 400 feet below sea level. Fresh water flowing downstream through the Jordan River empties into the terminal lake. Having no exit point, the Dead Sea water evaporates, causing salts to accumulate in the lake and in its sediments. As a result, the Dead Sea's salt concentration is about 33 percent, compared to 3 percent in the Mediterranean. In the 1930s, the inflow of freshwater equaled the rate of evaporation, with the Jordan River emptying some 1,300 cubic millimeters/year -- two thirds of the total inflow -- into the Dead Sea. Today, inflow is only 400 cubic millimeters per year due to national water projects on both sides of the Jordan that have diverted fresh water upstream. As the rate of inflow from the Jordan has decreased, so has the level of the Dead Sea. The lake's high rate of evaporation has also contributed to declining levels.
The Dead Sea originally consisted of two basins -- a larger, deep northern basin and a shallow southern one -- separated by a peninsula called El Lisan ("the tongue" in Arabic). The size difference is so drastic that the earliest map of the Dead Sea -- a mosaic from 560 C.E. -- shows only the northern basin. Actual measurements, recorded since the 1920s, show that the basins reached maximum levels of 330 meters in the north and 6 meters in the south. As of 1975, water from the northern basin continued to cross the Lisan Straits into the shallow southern basin. Today, the southern basin is essentially dry, except for evaporation ponds used for Israeli and Jordanian potash plants.
The idea of connecting the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean goes back to the 19th century, when a engineers suggested the possibility of using the natural elevation difference between the two seas to produce hydroelectric energy. According to this scheme, turbines would convert water into mechanical energy, which would be used to produce electricity. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, formalized the idea of a hydropower canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea in his 1902 novel Altneuland. He wrote that it would be possible to take advantage of the 400-meter drop to generate hydroelectric power. In the 1950s, the American conservationist Walter C. Lowdermilk, conducted research on a canal stretching from the Mediterranean, across the Negev Desert, to the Dead Sea. He calculated that the 400-meter drop would generate 100 megawatts of electric power. Scientists have revisited the idea of a hydroelectric scheme that would produce water without flooding tourist and industrial sites along the shores.
In 1977, an Israeli planning group considered four possible routes for a canal: one from the Gulf of Aqaba in the south and three from the Mediterranean (the northernmost being the one envisioned by Lowdermilk). The group favored the southern-most Mediterranean route, which would avoid the country's major aquifers and could promote development in the northern Negev. The project would refill the lake to the level of the 1930s over a period of 10 to 20 years. After 20 years, when the Dead Sea reached its historic levels and the inflow matched the evaporation rate, the flow of the canal would be reduced. In addition to restoring the level of the lake, the canal would generate electricity. The group determined that an inflow of 1.6 cubic kilometers of water per year would generate up to 800 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Storage reservoirs would be built so that the generation of electricity could be regulated to meet demand.
The Jordanians proposed a similar canal, with the source of water originating from the Red Sea instead of the Mediterranean. According to the plan, water would be pumped from the Red Sea at Jordan's southernmost town of Aqaba to an elevation of 220 meters. From there, it would flow via tunnel through the Jordan Rift Valley mountains for 200 kilometers before dropping into the Dead Sea.
The Israeli- and Jordanian-proposed Dead Sea hydro projects focused on power generation rather than water generation. A new study -- started in the early 1980s and completed in September 1996 by Harza Engineering of Chicago -- suggested that a Red-Dead Canal could generate fresh water that could be used to supplement scarce water resources in the region. Harza determined that water pumped up 410 feet from the Red Sea would plunge some 1,750 vertical feet through the Jordan Rift Valley to the Dead Sea. The drop would generate hydropower which, augmented by solar power, would fuel desalination and make available fresh water for agriculture, fish ponds, industry and recreation on artificial lakes. The 400-meter drop could also be used for reverse osmosis desalination. This process uses the force of the drop to push sea water through an artificial membrane, creating even more fresh water. Given that 70 percent of all water resources in Israel, Jordan and Palestinian areas is devoted to agriculture, this new supply of water would allow farmers to continue producing some water-absorbing crops (fruit) for export, instead of completely shifting to non-water intensive crops. Thus, the primary objective of the Harza project is to create a sustainable source of potable water to complement existing conservation practices. Secondary objectives include power production and reversal of the Dead Sea's dropping table.
TED cases: ARAL ATATURK ISRAELH2 JORDAN MARSH AQABA
ICE cases: ZNILE ZLITANI ZASSYRIA ZJORDAN
Since a large scale desalination project would affect the populations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority should have some say in the negotiations. Israel may resist sharing administrative control over water, which it views as intimately connected to national security. Other countries that could become involved in a water distribution scheme if the canal system was expanded include Egypt, which controls the Nile River, and Lebanon, which controls the Litani River. Regional participation in a canal project would hopefully spark progress in the peace process.
Although the individual countries endorsed the Johnston Unified Water Planof 1955, the Arab League Council rejected the plan, and so Israel and Jordan went ahead with their own national plans. Israel adopted a Ten-Year Plan for unilateral water development, based on the development of a National Water Carrier to divert Lake Tiberias and Jordan waters to the coastal plain and the Negev Desert. Israel completed the carrier project in 1964. At the same time, Jordan proceeded with its own plans to develop the Yarmuk River. With the help of outside experts, Jordan established an agency to plan, coordinate and supervise the construction of the 110-km East Ghor Canal. Operational as of 1961, the canal uses gravity flow to divert Yarmuk waters for irrigation.
Both countries framed their own laws for water development. Under the Water Law of 1959, Israel placed ownership of all water resources under the Ministry of Agriculture. A water commission, headed by a cabinet-appointed water commissioner, operates within the ministry and coordinates all water institutions. The two most important institutions are Tahal, a government corporation in charge of planning and research, and Mekorot, a public company charged with the daily operations and maintenance of water development projects. Israel framed an additional law which states that water is a means of production to be utilized in the best and most efficient way to meet public needs and develop the country. The Jordan Valley Commission, established in 1973, is responsible for all aspects of Jordan Valley development. In 1976, the commission began work on the second phase of Yarmuk development the high dam at Maqarin (known as the Wahda or Unity Dam) which was to store water for irrigation and consumption; provide hydroelectricity for Jordan and Syria; and regulate the flow of water to Israel. Construction of the dam was never completed, since Israel withheld its approval of funding on the grounds that the Yarmuk contributes some three percent of Israel's national water supply, and regulation of this supply would affect Israel's ability to provide for its basic needs. The World Bank will not finance international water projects unless all riparian states agree to proceed.
Herein lies the problem with a mega project like a Med-Dead or Red-Dead canal. Such a project would not be cheap. Financing would have to come from the international community, particularly those countries or agencies interested in fostering Mideast peace. Grants and loans from the United States, Europe or World Bank would give economic viability to the project. The World Bank typically advocates water allocation based on economic efficiency. Additional economic studies would therefore need to prove that a Dead Sea hydro project is a beneficial economic activity. The U.S. also sees a critical role for USAID in the economic development of the Jordan Valley. Joint research for desalination technology and efficient water use would qualify the project for USAID's Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) program. This would help attract foreign investment. U.S. companies benefitting from consulting and contracting work may also help convince decision makers to support the project.
The 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement has been more successful than Johnston in setting a precedent for joint management of water resources and development. In addition to laying out allotments that more accurately reflect current needs, the bilateral agreement includes provisions for exchanging data, building storage facilities, protecting water resources and forming a joint water committee to oversee the implementation of the agreement. Cooperation among the parties themselves is the basis for the agreement. In the case of the canal, although it may be necessary to bring outside donors and engineers in, the parties themselves must craft an agreement to satisfy both countries goals to rejuvenate the Dead Sea region, and to alleviate water shortages.
b. Geographic Site: West Asia
c. Geographic Impact: Israel
I examined this case from the Israeli perspective since any canal transport system would traverse Israeli territory. However, the canal would not only help develop the Dead Sea basin -- shared with Jordan -- but would have possible spinoff effects on water distribution in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and on trade and development with Jordan and Lebanon.
The local climate of the Dead Sea is hot and arid, as the Judean Hills "block" the rain. The average annual rainfall at the surface is some 70 millimeters per year. The city of Sedom at the southern end has 300 cloudless days per year, a summertime relative humidity between 30 and 40 percent and an average monthly temperature of 16-34 degrees Celcius (61-93 degrees Fahrenheit). As a result, other than inflow from the Jordan River, there is not much fresh water that enters the lake. The Dead Sea is appropriately named because the number of life forms that can survive in the hyper saline water is limited.
The level of the lake was highest in recent history during the 1930s, before Israel and Jordan embarked on national water projects. The canal plan calls for refilling the lake to this historic level (393 meters below the Mediterranean) over a period of 10-20 years. Once this level is reached, the rate of inflow would have to be adjusted to preserve the water balance between fresh and salty water. The mean rate of inflow of Mediterranean seawater that would balance evaporation is only two-thirds as much as the inflow during the filling stage. As a result, the hydroelectric system would be less profitable than it had been during the initial years of open flow. The inflow would be regulated so that the rate of evaporation from the lake's surface can be increased. And, since seawater has a higher vapor pressure than the brine, scientists envision a layered effect rather than a deep mixing of the two solutions. A layer of seawater mixed with brine would rest on top of the dense hypersaline solution.
This increase in supply would reverse 100 percent of the Jordanian deficit and 40 percent of the Israeli deficit. Secondary benefits include increased income from tourism on both sides of the Dead Sea, income from surplus energy production during the first years of operation and income from industries involved in the construction and maintenance of the canal and desalination plant. Harza estimates that the economic benefit to tourism (based on a comparison of tourism potential with and without the canal) would amount to $320 million; the benefit to industries that provide the reverse osmosis desalination membranes would be $15-40 million per year; and the value of income from energy production for the first 18 years would be $80 million. The canal would also eliminate sinkhole collapse due to the declining level of the Dead Sea.
a. Directly Related to Product: yes; water
b. Indirectly Related to Product: yes; many
c. Not Related to Product: no
d. Related to Process: yes; water
Possible negative impacts on the physical environment include groundwater contamination due to saltwater leakage from the canal system. Possible negative biological impacts include the interruption of wildlife movement due to construction and maintenance of infrastructure projects, and the effects on coral reefs at the proposed Red Sea intake point.
An inflow of seawater could also overturn the water column. Normally in a freshwater lake, changes in salinity caused by a quicker rate of freshwater inflow than evaporation, are tempered by temperature changes which decrease the density of the upper levels. In the Dead Sea, however, the water temperature change is not significant enough to effect changes in salinity. As a result, the Dead Sea's water column is different than that of a freshwater lake and from most saline lakes.
The first hydrographic study, conducted in 1864, showed that the Dead Sea water column was stratified by salinity. A 1959-1960 study revealed a salinity density of 250 grams per kilogram at the surface, 25 grams per kilogram at a depth of 35-40 meters and a gradual gradient down to 80 meters. In the upper levels, salinity and temperature varied with the season, while below 80 meters, the water was mostly 21.3 degrees Celcius with a salinity of 276 grams per kilogram. This high level of salinity, together with a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide found in deeper samples, suggest that the water contains no dissolved oxygen and plays host to anaerobic bacteria. The study concluded that homogeneous water below 80 meters is fossil water that has remained isolated from contact with the upper layers and with the atmosphere.
The isolation of the fossil water body give it characteristic chemical and radioactive properties, including low values of radioactive tritium and radium and the presence of bivalent iron, which indicates a lack of oxygen. One study found that radioactive isotopes had been introduced into the surface layers and mixed throughout the water column before its stratification. Once this mixing took place, the isotopes could not be replenished and were subject to radioactive decay. Measurements of the decay indicate that water below 80 meters had begun to be isolated about 300 years ago. This homogeneous fossil water did not mix with surface water.
In the years immediately preceding the overturn, measurements show that less than two percent of the fossil water was being renewed per year. The final overturn in 1978-79 caused the fossil water body to mix with the overlying levels. Hydrographic studies carried out since 1975 by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that the water column became more homogeneous as the salinity of the upper levels approached that of the deeper water. By the summer of 1978, the salinity gradient of the upper layers had surpassed that of the deep water, yet the warm surface temperature preserved the density of the surface waters and the stratification of the water column. During the following winter, the non-fossil water cooled and the water column finally overturned.
Conditions for a water column overturn include a decrease in the water column's stability due to an increase in surface-water salinity resulting from a decline in the water level. These conditions do not occur in the summer, when the surface layers are warmed, but are more common in the winter. After many dry seasons, the surface layers become salty enough (and dense enough) for the mixing to reach the deeper fossil water body. A rainy season may cause the mixing to remain at the upper levels. For example, the sudden inflow of freshwater during the winter rains of 1980, caused the water column to remain stratified for three years.
Since ancient times, people have recognized the unique characteristics of the Dead Sea. Aristotle (304-322 B.C.) was the first to tell the world about the salty body of water where no fish live and people float. Josefus Flavius (37-c.100), Galen (122-c.220) and Pliny the Elder (23-79) reported the therapeutic qualities of the water. King Solomon and Cleopatra used Dead Sea compounds to cure common ailments. Today, tourists flock to the Dead Sea for treatment of skin diseases and arthritis. The Dead Sea's low elevation, high salt concentration and high evaporation rate (about 2 billion cubic meters per year) create a thick haze which filters out UVB rays that cause sunburn. As a result, the air is oxygen-rich, pollen-free and filtered of harmful rays. Through a process of Natural Selective Ultraviolet Photo Therapy, Dead Sea specialists treat patients with psoriasis and joint problems. Dead Sea mud, found on the shores of the lake, is also good for the skin. The Ahava factory, located near the Dead Sea, manufactures mud and other skin products that are sold around the world.
Despite the fact that the project would be costly and its economic benefits unclear, the canal could take advantage of sparsely populated lands for agricultural and industrial production, spark regional cooperation and help alleviate the region's water shortage. Additional economic returns might include: energy towers and solar energy ponds; expansion of fish culture in reservoirs and fish farms; expansion of water sports and the tourism industry; opportunities for investment in industries such as plastic manufacturing, aggregate processing; metal fabrication and repair workshops; and a possible communications network serving the canal project. All of these side benefits would create jobs. Desalinated water would also boost agriculture and help alleviate domestic consumption shortages.
Another economic issue is the cost of water. In January 1991, a Israeli Comptroller General report identified the low price of water as the cause of a decline in supply. Farmers "take what they can" rather than taking only that allotment necessary for efficient water use. The report urged increasing water prices -- a move that would encourage farmers to reduce consumption of irrigation water, adopt efficient water-use technologies and find new sources of water. High water subsidies, especially in agriculture, are the primary reason for low prices. Subsidized water causes waste in agricultural practices, little incentive for development of conservation techniques and too much water allocated to agriculture over industry or domestic use. Removing subsidies and allowing the price of water to reflect the total cost of resource development -- including pumping, treatment and transport -- would maximize efficient usage. It would allow water historically used for agricultural purposes, to be reallocated to higher-valued uses such as domestic and industrial needs. Israel has already cut back the amount of water available to farmers in Israel proper by 40 percent, and restricted Israeli farmers in the West Bank from engaging in extensive water-absorbing farming practices. If water was correctly priced, farmers would rely less on water-intensive crops and shift crops according to market demand. They could also sell water surplus as a source of income, which they could reinvest in new technology to improve overall efficiency.
The cost of freshwater produced by a Dead Sea hydro project would have to reflect investments in, and maintenance of the conveyance system and desalination plant. Although infrastructure is expensive, the price of desalinated water has decreased. In the early 1980s the unit cost was $1.2 per cubic meter. By 1994, the cost dropped to between $0.6 and $0.7. Price decreases are expected to continue as the desalination industry continues to grow.
Changes in salinity have an impact on the biological composition of the lake. Dilution in salt content causes the profusion of microorganisms. Heavy rains in the winter of 1980 (also in 1992) diluted the salt content of the lake and caused the number of microorganisms at the surface to multiply to some 19 million cells per milliliter. As a result, the color of the surface water changed from blue green to reddish blue. Scientists predict that a sudden inflow of fresh water, channeled in by a canal for example, could turn the sea first green, then bright pink.
|Water resources, 1990||Projected water resources, 2050|
The Dead Sea region has special historical significance for Israel. The Bible describes, in Genesis 19, the destructive earthquake near the Dead Sea area at the time of Abraham. While no evidence remains of the ancient cities of Zeboim, Admah, Bela, Sodom or Gomorrah, their sites are believed to be located near the southern end of the sea. In 1947, a young Beduin shepherd discovered an ancient scroll in a cave at Qumran, near the northern basin. The scroll was preserved by the low humidity in the cave. Additional discoveries in the area produced thousands of scroll fragments which have been pieced together and preserved at the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem. Scientists used carbon-14 dating to determine that the scrolls date back to the Essene sect, which inhabited the Qumran area from the 3rd century BCE to 68 CE.
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