The Dead Sea Is In Deep Trouble

March 1, 2006
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If immediate steps are not taken to remedy the situation, the mineral-rich water will drop to 440 meters (1,443 feet) below sea level by 2025, and another 25 meters (82 feet) by 2050, according to a report by the Ministry of National Infrastructures’ chief scientist Professor Michael Byeth.

Mud flats are also being exposed, creating an environmental and planning hazard, but a bigger concern is the development of dangerous sinkholes that open up without warning––a real safety hazard. Erosion is lowering the level of the water table and damaging engineering structures. Water pools and beautiful natural sites are being disturbed as well.

Reasons for Destruction

The reasons for the destruction are numerous and complex. Before the 1960s, said the report, a drop was due to a lack of rain and a drought in the Dead Sea’s drainage basin. Since that time, however, the National Water Carrier has redirected water from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the rest of the country, severely reducing the flow to the Dead Sea. With the creation of Jordan’s 110-kilometer (68-mile) King Abdullah Canal––which is fed by the Jordan River’s main tributary, the Yarmouk River––the flow to the sea slowed even more. Syria’s dam on the Yarmouk also contributed to the drop in fresh water supply to the area.

Worse, evaporation and drying procedures by Israeli and Jordanian chemical extraction plants have now essentially turned the southern basin into an artificial evaporation pool for the Dead Sea Works, a major industrial complex, which for many decades has extracted potash, bromine, and other chemicals for worldwide export.

Chemical extractions in the southernmost basin damage the remainder of the sea, as salt has been rapidly accumulating in the nearby resort area. The salt accumulation at the bottom of the seabed has been artificially raising the water level there by 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) per year. This threatens both existing infrastructures and the dozen or so hotels along the southern strip. At the same time, the amount of actual water content in the sea has been steadily decreasing in the resort region.

Solutions Sought

The problem has finally come to the attention of the Israeli cabinet, which has ordered the Ministry of Tourism to find a solution for the hotels before the Dead Sea Works franchise ends in 2030. In the meantime, large grinding machines move through the waters, crushing the salt, which has accumulated at the bottom of the southern sea. Great piles of the salt are pushed into columns, creating a temporary solution, which allows a deep enough water basin for tourists who want to soak in the healing waters.

According to local tour guide Younis Abu Hamad, however, it’s not enough. “Barely a kilometer (0.62 mile) to the south, the water is almost gone, and the heavy salt accumulation in the water near the hotels has to be plowed regularly. More and more salt is being piled into the columns, and more columns are being created.”

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