Dead sea - Emil Salman - November 8 2011
Kids floating in the Dead Sea, November 8, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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This weekend, the winners of the worldwide New 7 Wonders of Nature competition will be announced, and Israel is rooting for the Dead Sea to be on the list. But Israeli environmentalists hope the government won't be content with the mere honor, and will instead actually save the sea by supporting a bill to regulate the pumping of water from its sources and construction of infrastructure on its beaches.

The bill, entitled "Protection and Rehabilitation of the Dead Sea," was drafted by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din) and submitted to the Knesset by a group of MKs headed by Dov Khenin (Hadash). The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is due to convene next week to decide whether the government will back it.

Over the past few days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers have urged the public to send SMS votes for the Dead Sea to the competition's organizers, while also promising to protect the area. Nonetheless, the government's position on the proposed law is as yet unknown. On Tuesday, the Tourism Ministry said it is still reviewing the subject.

The Dead Sea has been drying up in recent years due to the pumping of water from its sources for use in Israel and neighboring countries. The sea has been falling by approximately one meter a year, and so far, nothing has been done to prevent the water level from dropping further. For the past two years, the World Bank has been studying the feasibility of a plan to send water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea via Jordan.

The IUED's bill would instruct the environmental protection minister to prepare a plan within one year to replenish the sea's northern basin. The plan would guarantee the flow of at least 235 cubic meters a year through the Jordan River to the Dead Sea.

The bill would also require Dead Sea Works, which holds rights to the southern part of the sea, to submit a request to the minister at the end of each year specifying how much water it wants to draw from the sea's northern basin for use in the industrial pools it maintains at the southern end. The minister would then determine, together with the Water Authority, the maximum amount it could pump.