Israel and Jordan agreed on Thursday to begin work on the Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal project, which will convey potable water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
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Environmental organizations object to the project and have proposed another plan, which they say would be more effective and less wasteful, such as conveying water to Jordan via the Jordan River.
The project envisages bringing water from the Red Sea to stabilize the level of the Dead Sea and setting up a desalination facility in Aqaba, Jordan.
The agreement signed by the two countries on Thursday provides for a joint administration to draft a tender and choose the contractors for the project. Officials said that construction of the desalination facility was expected to start in about 18 months, while the laying of the 180-kilometer pipe would begin in about three years.
The initial cost of the pipe is estimated at $250 million, rising to $400 million as additional pipes are laid.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians signed a memorandum of understanding for setting up the conduit in December 2013. The agreement signed on Thursday was between Israel and Jordan only. The Palestinian Authority will be able to sign a separate agreement with Israel if it chooses to use the Israeli water system, officials said.
The agreement was signed by Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom and his Jordanian counterpart at a ceremony on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. It was attended by officials from both states, as well as representatives of the World Bank and the United States embassies in Jordan and Israel.
The desalination plant will provide water to both the Arava region in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan. The pipe, situated in Jordan, will convey salt water from the Red Sea to the shrinking Dead Sea, while, in exchange, drinking water from the north of Israel will be provided to Amman, the capital of Jordan.
The effect of the diluted water on the Dead Sea and other environmental concerns will be studied and monitored.
“This is the most important agreement since the peace agreement with Jordan,” Shalom said. “It will help to rehabilitate the Dead Sea and provide a solution to the water problems in Jordan and the Arava.”
Israeli and Jordanian representatives at the signing of the agreement. Photo by Israel's Ministry for Regional Cooperation
A concession will be awarded to private entrepreneurs to build and operate the desalination facility, based on undertakings from both Israel and Jordan to purchase specified amounts of water. After a certain period, the plant will be returned to the control of the respective governments. The estimated investment in the plant is $200 million.
Jordan will be in charge of deciding the amounts of water to be desalinated and the amount piped to the Dead Sea. The amount of desalinated water and its conveyance into the Dead Sea will be examined every two years, officials said.
In the first stage the facility will pump up 200 million cubic meters a year from the Red Sea, 80 million of which will become drinking water. The rest will be directed to the Dead Sea. Jordan will buy 30 million cubic meters for Aqaba and Israel will buy 30-50 cubic meters. In exchange, Israel will provide Jordan with 50 million cubic meters of drinking water from the north.
The Palestinians will have an option to buy 30 million cubic meters of water from Israel.