A Painful Time at the Dead Sea

The sinkholes that emerge as the Dead Sea recedes require safe new roads and access to the beach.

Emil Salman

Israeli visitors to the Dead Sea over the Passover holiday experienced a painful encounter with the consequences of its receding waters. As reported by Nir Hasson, masses of visitors were unable to reach the Dead Sea because beaches were in the sinkhole danger zone. Even the main nature reserve in the area, Ein Gedi, was hard to reach because the main road has been closed due to a sinkhole.

We must face the reality that, in the years to come, the situation at the Dead Sea will grow worse no matter what we do. The only plan on the table to stop the receding of the water is to channel a large quantity of brine (salt concentrate from a desalination plant) from the Gulf of Eilat to the disappearing Dead Sea. This will act as a substitute for water from the Jordan River, which cannot be returned to the Jordan where it would otherwise flow naturally into the Dead Sea because of the high demand for Jordan River water (for irrigation and drinking purposes).

But this plan is only preliminary; only a small quantity of brine is to be channeled to the Dead Sea initially. The more the project expands, the more we will learn whether there will be negative implications for the Dead Sea, including the formation of gypsum and the development of algae.

In any case, the possible construction of a large channel many years from now will not stop the development of the sinkholes. Restriction of industrial activities that utilize the Dead Sea could partially slow down the receding waterline, but such restrictions will have an economic cost that must be taken into consideration.

Against this backdrop, it must be remembered that the development of sinkholes to the west (far from the receding water) is limited and geologists can map it and mark precisely where the danger zones are. The practical alternative or possibility for dealing with the ongoing crisis is to match infrastructure in the region to the changes on the ground.

Safe roads must be planned and access to the beach made possible by means of protected crossings. This approach to dealing with the situation recognizes that human beings have changed the Dead Sea unrecognizably, and we must face the consequences. Such an approach will allow for better management of natural resources and the landscape of the adjacent Judean Desert. In the future, it may be possible to make the use of water more efficient in the area and develop more desalination plants, thus releasing more natural water back into the Jordan to slow the disappearance of the Dead Sea.