Dead Sea - Gil Cohen Magen - 27122011
An aerial view of the Dead Sea last month. The state is seeking increased royalties from the factories. Photo by Gil Cohen Magen
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As the negotiations between the Finance Ministry and Dead Sea Works over royalties the latter will pay to the state near completion, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Movement for Quality Government are calling for steps that would bar the factories from promoting projects that would likely worsen the impact of industrial activity on the sea, including increasing the amount of water pumped out of the sea for the factories' use.

This request coincides with the release of a new Geological Institute study that assesses that the factories will have a greater impact on the rate of the deline in the level of the Dead Sea in the future.

The Finance Ministry's negotiations with Israel Chemicals over funding for efforts to protect the Dead Sea area hotels from flooding at one of the industrial pools and royalties to be paid to the state for exploiting the Dead Sea's minerals, primarily potassium, are nearing their end. The ministry argues that the factories must pay around 90 percent of the cost of the protective measures for the hotels, and that they must double the royalties paid from the sale of potassium from 5 percent to 10 percent. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz clarified yesterday that if the ministry's demands were not met, within a few days a Sheshinsky Committee II would be formed to review the state's share of the profits from the exploitation of the Dead Sea's resources.

Yesterday, Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan contacted the Finance Ministry and argued that even if an agreement is reached, this should not be seen as the end of the matter. "If the royalties are not increased as the exploitation of the natural resources rises, the factories have a clear interest in increasing their production as much as possible, also at the expense of the sea," the ministers noted.

The approaches made by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Movement for Quality Government also asked not to allow the launch of projects such as the construction of another industrial pool for the factories.

Recently, the Geological Institute completed a feasibility study for the Dead Sea-Med Sea canal project being carried out by the World Bank. Together with Tahal, the Geological Institute examined different scenarios for the status of the Dead Sea if the canal project (from the Gulf of Eilat to the Dead Sea ) is not undertaken and the existing plants in Israel and Jordan continue their operations, and what will happen if they cease their operations.

The study indicates that the current annual rate of decline of the Dead Sea water level is 115 centimeters. The study's authors estimate that the Israeli and Jordanian plants are responsible for 50 centimeters of this decline, a figure that is not accepted by the plants, which claim they are responsible for a much lower amount of the decline in the water level.

The study also indicates that if there are no additional sources of water flowing into the sea and the industrial operations continue, the salinity of the sea will increase and as a result, the water evaporation will decline. This would mean that if the plants continue pumping water and even increase the quantity pumped, they would then be responsible for a larger share of the declining water level relative to natural evaporation. The study speculates that in such a scenario, the water level would drop from 425 meters below the level of the Mediterranean Sea to 490 meters in 2075.

The plants in Jordan and Israel use pumping stations and transfer water from the northern Dead Sea basin to the huge industrial pools, and the minerals that settle in them are used for industrial purposes. Thereafter, the salt mixtures are transferred back to the sea.

Dead Sea Works said in response that it was negotiating with the Finance Ministry with the intention and goal of reaching an agreement.