Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal
The Red Sea–Dead Sea Conduit (Canal), sometimes called the Two Seas Canal, is a proposed conduit (pipes and brine canal) which would run from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. It will provide potable water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, bring sea water to stabilise the Dead Sea water level and generate electricity to support the energy needs of the project. This proposal has a role in plans to create institutions for economic cooperation between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, in the Dead Sea and through the Peace Valley plan.
The water level in the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of more than one metre per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the diversion of over 90% of the water of the Jordan River. In the early 1960s, the river moved 1.5 billion cubic metres of water every year from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Dams, canals, and pumping stations built by Israel, Jordan and Syria now divert water for crops and drinking, and have reduced the flow to about 100 million cubic metres a year (MCM/yr) (mainly brackish water and sewage). The decline of the Dead Sea level is creating major environmental problems: the creation of sink holes that endanger structures, plantations and roads; receding sea shores and the creation of mud plains; and other effects on the environment and the flora and fauna of the region. The World Bank Study estimated the intangibles benefits of the removal of the environmental problems associated with the decline in the sea water level as about US$ 31 billion.
Other routes for a conduit (canal and tunnel) for the same objectives as the Red - Dead Conduit, the Mediterranean–Dead Sea Canal, were proposed in Israel in the 1980s, but were discarded due to high investment costs and the reliance on the energy objective. Recently the idea has been revived. Another route (pipeline, tunnel and canal) was proposed from The Mediterranean to the Dead Sea through the Beit Shean and the Jordan Valley. Other alternatives to address the Jordan River and the Dead Sea problems have been suggested among them the renewal of the flow of water in the Jordan River through the use of desalination and changes in the water policies of the riparian of the Jordan River.
The connection of the seas by canal was first suggested in the mid 19th century by British officers who were looking for ways to circumvent the French-built Suez Canal and had not realized that the level of the Dead Sea is much lower. Later on, at the end of the 19th century, planners thought how to use the Jordan River water for irrigation and to bring sea water to the Dead Sea to create energy from its position of -390 m below sea level. One of those planners was the Zionist leader Hertzel. The Red Sea Dead Sea conduit was proposed at the end of the 1960s and was analyzed as part of the peace process between Israel and Jordan. In the late 1990s a team headed by Refael (Rafi) Benvenisti working with Minister Shimon Peres as the Minister of Regional Cooperation suggested to establish the stabilization of the Dead Sea water level ('Saving the Dead Sea') as a major objective of the project. It suggested building the project in stages in order to test the mixing of the two seas water phasing the big investment associated with the project. The project was called "the Peace conduit" and was proposed to be located on Jordanian territory for financial and implementation reasons.
On May 9, 2005 Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to go ahead with a feasibility study for the Two Seas Canal. The agreement was signed on the Dead Sea by Jordanian Water Minister Raed Abu Soud, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan al-Khatib.
In June 2009, after a meeting with World Bank President Robert Zoellick, the Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister, Silvan Shalom, announced a pilot project to build a "pilot" pipe 180 km long from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The pipe would pump 200 million cubic metres per year. Half of this would be desalinated for Jordanian consumption and half put into the Dead Sea.
In October 2009 the Jordanian government announced that it would unilaterally tender a Jordan Red Sea Project (JRSP). According to the government, this project could be considered as the first phase of the Red Sea–Dead Sea Project. The project is to be implemented by a private company under authority granted by the government. The project would also serve as an economic development project to create housing for 1.36 million people south of Amman, at the Southern end of the Dead Sea, north of Aqaba and in gated communities. Also, several tourist resorts would be created. It is divided into five phases. The first phase would include extraction of 400 million cubic metres of seawater per year, resulting in 210 million cubic metres/year (MCM/yr) of freshwater and 190 million cubic metres/year for discharge into the Dead Sea. The construction of the first phase is expected to take 7 years. In March 2011 the Ministry of Water and Irrigation short-listed six firms for the first phase of the project.
The World Bank has announced that it would release a feasibility study  of water conveyance from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea together with an environmental and social assessment as well as a study of alternatives in early 2012 (see the drafts - ). The alternatives studied include a restoration of the Jordan River to its natural flow and taking no action, as well as numerous other alternatives.
In August 2013, Jordanian government announced that it would move ahead with the first phase of a project. On December 9, 2013, an agreement to build the pipeline was signed by Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
Project features and benefits
The proposed conveyance would pump seawater 230 meters uphill from the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba through the Arabah (Arava) valley in Jordan, then flow down gravitationally through multiple pipelines to the Dead Sea, followed by a drop through a penstock to the level of the Dead Sea near its shore and an open Canal to the Sea itself, which lies about 420 m below sea level. The project will consist of about 225 km of seawater and brine conveyance pipelines parallel to the Arabah valley in Jordan. It would also consist of about 178 km of freshwater conveyance pipelines to Amman. It includes water desalination plants and a hydropower plant. In its ultimate phase it would provide 850 million cubic meters of freshwater per year. It would require electric generating capacity from the Jordanian grid and would provide electricity through hydropower, making the project a large net energy user. The net energy demand would have to be satisfied through power projects whose costs are not included in the project costs. Jordan plans to build a nuclear reactor, which may supply these power needs.
Costs and financing
The project cost estimates vary from two to more than ten billion dollars depending on its structure and stages. The first phase of the Jordan Red Sea Project is expected to cost US$2.5 billion. It is expected to be financed to a large extent from commercial sources, including debt and equity and from soft international financing.
The transfer of mass volumes of water from one sea to another can bear drastic consequences on the unique natural characteristics of each of the two seas, as well as the desert valley which separates them, the Arabah. Some of these characteristics, especially in the Dead Sea area, are unique on a global perspective, and therefore crucially important for conservation. The environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East has protested against the allegedly premature approval of the project, without sufficient assessment of the project's impact on the natural environment of the area. The group lists several potential hazardous effects of the project on the unique natural systems of the Red Sea, the Dead Sea and the Arabah. These effects include:
- Damage to the unique natural system of the Dead Sea, due to mixing its water with Red Sea water, or brines created from the process of desalinating Red Sea water which has a different chemical composition. This includes changes in water salinity, massive formation of gypsum, formation of volatile toxic compounds, change in water evaporation rates, changes in the composition of bacteria and algae which inhabit the sea surface, chemical changes in the rocks which surround the water, and loss of unique health benefits that account for much of the tourist attraction to the Dead Sea area.
- Damage to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to water pumping.
- Damage to the natural landscape and ecosystem of the Arabah, due to the construction, and the increase in humidity caused by the open canal segments.
- Damage to the aquifer of the Arabah, due to contamination of groundwater with water from the Red Sea. The alluvial deposits in Wadi Araba contain important supplies of fresh water. In the event that the pipeline ruptures (as might happen in the case of an earthquake), these aquifers will be irreparably damaged. This can have fatal consequences to both the agriculture and ecosystem of the Arabah.
- Threats to archeological heritage. The pipeline will cross areas of important cultural heritage, such as Wadi Finan, where the earliest copper mining and extraction in the world took place.
Israeli environmental NGOs say that the reestablishment of the Jordan River to its natural state was a better solution to the decline of the Dead Sea than the proposed canal.
The World Bank Study included environmental assessments carried out under the supervision of the World Bank by world renowned experts found that the environmental risks of the project are manageable if the project is well planned and executed:
1. Damage to the unique natural system of the Dead Sea, due to mixing its water with Red Sea water. The report of: Tahal Group, The Geological Survey of Israel (GSI), Portland State University - Oregon, USA and Institute of Life Sciences - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stated:
- "In order to stabilize the Dead Sea level, more than 700 MCM/yr (million cubic metres/year) of additional water is needed.
- "The present conditions of the Dead Sea will be maintained at least up to inflow volume of about 400 MCM/yr".
- "Potential for biological blooming exists only when stratification develops and the upper mixed layer is diluted by at least 10%"
- "Once stratification develops and mixing occurs in the upper water column, there is a potential for "whitening"
- Stratification may develop above inflow of 500-600 MCM/yr.
2. Damage to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to water pumping. The report of: Thetis SpA, The Interuniversity Institute For Marine Sciences In Eilat, Marine Science Station University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, Aqaba and Israel Oceanographic and limnological Research institute, stated:
- "The exchanges of water between the Gulf and the northern Red Sea through the Strait of Tiran are several orders of magnitude larger than those that would be induced by the proposed abstraction flows, such that the latter would likely be imperceptible except in the immediate vicinity of the sink. The expected effect of the abstraction on the heat budget of the gulf is also expected to be negligible".
- "Based on above assessments our findings are for a "go" decision, as long as the intake configuration, location, and depth are selected properly".
3. Damage to the natural landscape and ecosystem of the Arabah and threats to archeological heritage sites due to construction and increased humidity caused by the open canal segments. According to the preferred scenario of the World Bank Study the conduit will be multiple buried pipelines and not canals. Special care will be taken to minimize the environmental and archeological damages.
4. Damage to the aquifer of the Arabah, due to contamination of groundwater with water from the Red Sea. The planning and construction of the pipelines will include measures to minimize the potential for pipeline ruptures.
The proposal has also generated some concern in Egypt, which believes that the canal will increase seismic activity in the region, provide Israel with water for cooling its nuclear reactor near Dimona, turn the Negev Desert into a settlement area, and increase well salinity. As proposed, most of the desalinated water is expected to be used by Jordan and the Palestinians. Israel currently has sufficient sea water from the Mediterranean for cooling its nuclear facility. Under the current proposal, water sufficient only to prevent the Dead Sea from dehydrating will flow through the system, preventing salt water flow into wells. The World Bank study recommended re-routing the conduit to avoid the geological faults of the Araba Valley.
- "Jordan Times: Benvenisti's Presentation of the Red Sea Dead Sea Conduit in Jordan 2000". Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- Jpost article on Silvan Shalom announcement, jpost.com, 6/28/09.
- The Telegraph:Jordan to refill shrinking Dead Sea with salt water, October 10, 2009, retrieved on May 12, 2011
- Jordan Red Sea Project:Jordan Red Sea Project Description, retrieved on May 11, 2011
- World Bank (13 December 2011). "Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program: Question and Answer Sheet" (PDF). Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Sherwood, Harriet (2013-12-09). "Dead Sea neighbours agree to pipeline to pump water from Red Sea". The Guardian.
- "On the possible negative impacts of the project on the natural environment of the Dead Sea and Arava Valley". foeme.org. Archived from the original on 2007-04-05. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
- Water expert: Red-Dead 'pilot' project could be premature, By EHUD ZION WALDOKS, Jun 28, 2009.
- Jerusalem Post editorial, June 28, 2009
- Environmentalists slam World Bank over Red–Dead canal - Rory Kress, August 12, 2007 The Jerusalem Post
- Red Sea – Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program - Dead Sea Study
- Red Sea - Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program - Additional Studies - Red Sea Study
- Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Environmental and Social Assessment Archaeology Site Assessment Report
- "Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal could Cause Quakes -Official". planetark.com. Retrieved 2007-01-17.