A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled on Wednesday for a project that will bring water to one of the most important springs in the Judean Desert, now contaminated by underground industrial waste. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is behind the plan to restore the Ein Bokek spring, located near the Dead Sea.
Industrial brine from the Negev region of Mishor Rotem has been seeping into the groundwater that feeds Ein Bokek for years. The brine, which originates in industrial facilities belonging to Israel Chemicals, is channeled into evaporation pools but some of it nevertheless reaches the water table.
The increasing levels of salinity in the water of the spring has caused extensive damage to plant and animal species in the area. That damage includes the disappearance from the area of certain rare species, according to a survey conducted by nature authority scientists three years ago.
The agency has explored a number of options to restore the spring. One possibility was to desalinate the water and return it to the spring, but that would have require the laying of a pipeline that would damage the wadi, or dry river bed. The solution that was chosen involves bringing water from a nearby Mekorot Water Company reservoir, to dilute the salinity of the spring water. In addition, some of the saline water will be transported by pipe to the drainage system of the Dead Sea hotel area.
“The NPA and Mekorot promised us that by the end of next year, the necessary amount of water will flow through the spring,” the director of the NPA’s environmental unit, Nissim Keshet, said. The Dead Sea Works, which is also owned by Israel Chemicals, will be in charge of operating the system. The project will be paid for out of a fund established by the government for repairing environmental damage in the Dead Sea area.
The quantity of industrial contaminants is so great — amounting to tens of millions of cubic meters — that the project is expected to take decades to complete. As part of the project, Mekorot is to drill a well in Mishor Rotem to draw off the contaminated water, but it is expected to take years before enough water can be pumped to stop the salinization of Ein Bokek.