What is the Red Sea Dead Sea Canal that Jordan renounced? – explainer

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Building a sea-to-sea canal would provide drinking and irrigation water to the desert region, replenish the shrinking Dead Sea and produce renewable energy.

https://www.jpost.com-By HADASSAH BRENNER

A view from the highway of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet

(photo credit: ROBERT HERSOWITZ)

The Red Sea Dead Sea Canal (RSDSC), which Jordan decided to opt out of according to reports by KAN Thursday, is one of many options Israel has considered to produce hydroelectricity, desalinate sea water to combat drinking water shortages in the region and renew the water level of the shrinking Dead Sea.

The canal was intended to transfer water from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Dead Sea, through which enough energy would be generated to desalinate water for regions that suffer from chronic fresh water shortages in Jordan and Israel.

Since the Dead Sea has the lowest elevation on Earth, a canal connecting either the Red Sea or Mediterranean to the Dead Sea could generate electricity from such a drop through an hydroelectric power plant, which could in turn be used to desalinate sea water for drinking or irrigation purposes, while the leftover brine from the process could fill the Dead Sea, the Global National Fund (GNF) summarized on the World Bank’s 2012 feasibility study.

Building and maintaining such a project would provide drinking and irrigation water to the desert region, new jobs, boost Dead Sea tourism, create an energy reserve and offer a new clean and renewable energy source for Israel the Arava Institute reported in its 2013 Pre-feasibility Study on Water Conveyance Routes to the Dead Sea.

The necessity of such a canal stems from the Arava region’s lack of natural fresh water resources and the rapid decline in the Dead Sea’s water level. Fresh water that once ran down the Jordan River and other streams, replenishing the Dead Sea, has been greatly diverted for agricultural and drinking purposes or has become contaminated by wastewater, GNF explained. The Degania Dam at the southern end of the Kinneret has blocked much of the flowing water from the Jordan River in an attempt to preserve the Kinneret as a drinking reservoir, as droughts and agricultural diversions in northern Israel have threatened its levels as well.

Over-exploitation of minerals by companies such as the Arab Potash Company and the Dead Sea Works have further decreased the Dead Sea’s level by increasing its evaporation rate, as minerals are extracted through solar evaporation ponds, National Geographic noted in a 2018 article.

These factors have caused the Dead Sea level to decline from -390 m. below sea level in 1930 to -435.55 m. in 2021, the Water Authority reported in May. Whatever fresh water does make it to Dead Sea mixes with salt water, dissolving underground salt layers and causing sinkhole collapses, The Los Angeles Times explained.

The linking of the Red Sea with the Dead Sea was broached by  British naval officers in the 19th century looking to build a navigation canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret, or Sea of Galilee, in Northern Israel or the Dead Sea in the Southern Arava region, the Arava report noted. The idea was abandoned after the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869.

It was picked up soon after by the head of the Zionist Organization, Theodore Herzl. He suggested a Mediterranean Dead Sea Conveyor (MSDSC) to produce a power plant for a thriving Jordan Valley industry. He wrote in The Jewish State, “Before them extended the Dead Sea spread out like a deep blue mirror, their ears assailed by the thunder of the canal waters, led hither through tunnels from the Mediterranean, rushing down to the depths… Below stood the power plant and beyond, as far as the eye could see, numerous large manufacturing plants. The canal had brought the Dead Sea to life!”

Throughout the 1970-80s, feasibility plans for the MSDSC considered possible routes (Arava report). The MSDSC was mostly forgotten when in 2002, during the World Summit, Israel and Jordan turned to a potential Dead Sea-Red Sea route to provide fresh water and a Dead Sea revival and the World Bank conducted extensive research for plan.

While there are significant benefits to building such a canal, certain economic and environmental concerns need to be addressed. Specifically regarding, the RSDSC, which would have pumped water 220 m. up from the Gulf of Aqaba and was the longest suggested route at 174 km., the cost of such a project amounted to $11 billion and its maintenance to $400 million each year, the GNF specified.

Its path also traversed an area prone to seismic activity, demanding extra expenses to ensure its durability and if damaged by an earthquake, presented a danger of leakage that could have polluted nearby groundwater, the World Bank’s study noted. Water pumping could have potentially affected coral reefs in the Red Sea as well, GNF added.

Other canal pathways connecting to the Mediterranean Sea are still potential options and do not pose these risks.

A northern route proposed leading the water through the Jezreel and Zevulon valleys into the Jordan River and ending in the Dead Sea (Arava report), much in the same way that the Sedom Lagoon, an extension of the Mediterranean Sea that traversed the Zevulun, Jezreel and Beit She’an valleys, filled the Jordan Rift Valley before it was cut off by tectonic movements some 24,000 years ago.

Other possibilities include an Ashdod canal through the Judean Hills or south of Jerusalem and ending in the northern portion of the Dead Sea, a more southern route from the Gaza border community Zikim and the Gaza Strip Katif canal (Arava report), which was abandoned and condemned by UN resolutions.

Any canal route risks affecting the Dead Sea’s chemical composition, water quality and may therefore damage the mineral extraction industry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry warned. Building a canal could also disrupt the ecology of the region, warned the World Bank, and is an expensive endeavor that requires much maintenance for its continued operation.

“Over the past forty years several detailed feasibility studies were conducted which mainly concluded that it was not financially viable,” Prof. Steve Brenner of Bar-Ilan’s Geography and Environment Department told The Jerusalem Post, explaining why the economic factor has posed a problem in progressing any canal plan.

Additionally, many unknowns demand extensive research to determine the feasibility of routes other than the RSDSC. “With the major recent advances in the fields of energy production and desalination, an extensive re-evaluation would be required before any decisions are made,” Brenner affirmed.

 

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