dead sea - Yaron Kaminsky - February 22 2011
A dried up area near the Dead Sea in 2006. The sign says there was a beach there in 2004 and points the way to where there were stairs to the beach and changing rooms. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is planning to build a dam to save the Einot Hatzukim nature reserve, which is threatened by the continuous retreat of the waters of the Dead Sea.

The reserve contains some of the most important springs in the Judean Desert. These springs produce more than 70 million cubic meters of sweet water every year and attract many unique kinds of flora and fauna.

Recently, however, new canyons have opened up in the former seabed near the reserve and then been widened and deepened by floods. The parks authority said it feared the process would eventually drain all the water from the reserve and destroy plant and animal life there.

The authority convened a panel of experts several weeks ago to see whether there was a possibility of intervention, and decided that an experimental dam should be constructed on the course of one of the streams draining the reserve. The experts noted that the undermining of the streams has so far stopped at a layer of soil just outside the reserve, so it decided to place the dam there and study the results.

One of the scientists who took part in the seminar, Prof. Jonathan Laronne of Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, came out against the initiative, writing in the "Ecology and Environment" journal that work on the dam would cause widespread damage to the reserve. "As often happens with planning in Israel, the authorities first consider doing and only then thinking," he wrote. "The heavy engineering equipment could destroy the reserve."

But the authority's chief scientist, Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, rejected that argument out of hand. "We held the workshop precisely because we wanted to think before we acted," he said. "We know heavy equipment can cause damage, and that is why we're starting with a pilot project only, covering a few hundred meters of a single stream."