The Other Side of the Faucet

Contrary to prevailing opinion, the Dead Sea Works is only a secondary cause of the sea's dropping level.

The level of the Dead Sea has been dropping at an increasing rate in recent years. It is now 420.47 meters below sea level, 15 centimeters lower than last month, the Hydrological Service said yesterday.

The Dead Sea's level has been dropping 1.2 meters a year, and this drop has had destructive geological and environmental consequences. At the top of the list is the increasing number of sinkholes along the shore.

The sinkholes make it difficult to construct important infrastructures and subsequently endanger the people visiting and residing in the region.

Another destructive consequence is the increased force of flooding water from the mountains, which cause millions of shekels of damage every year. It is also becoming much more difficult to access the Dead Sea's shores. Anyone who visits the area will immediately notice that the Dead Sea has become a disaster area.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, the Dead Sea Works is only a secondary cause of the sea's dropping level. Only 15 to 20 percent of the drop is believed to be associated with the water that the factories on both the Israeli and Jordanian sides pump into the salt-evaporation ponds south of the Dead Sea.

The main reason for the rapid drop in the Dead Sea's level is a reduced flow of fresh water from Lake Kinneret and the Jordan Valley. Closing the Deganya dam in the south of the Kinneret, building waterworks that diverted the Yarmuch River and other streams flowing into the Jordan and the sea and the fast evaporation has led to an annual deficit of more than a billion cubic meters at the Dead Sea. This amount is equivalent to half of Israel's annual water consumption.

The most fashionable solution to the problem, which President Shimon Peres has been promoting in recent years, is the "peace canal," which would run from the Gulf of Eilat via the Arava to the Dead Sea. On the way, the water will be used to produce energy and desalination for both Israel and Jordan. The entire project would be financed by generous foreign contributions.

This solution is dubious, at the very least, both environmentally and economically. Nobody knows for certain what will happen when water from the Red Sea reaches the Dead Sea. Some scenarios see plaster formation, which would color the Dead Sea white, or the formation of an upper water layer, which would not include Dead Sea salt and minerals; the sea would then lose its value as a health and tourist attraction.

Another scenario predicts a fierce stench rising from the sea or the sudden appearance of flora and fauna in the Dead Sea. The canal could also endanger the ecological balance of the coral reef in the Red Sea and the ground water along the Arava.

Another problem with the peace canal is that it would isolate the Dead Sea from Israel's water system. An alternative solution is to reconnect the Dead Sea to the water system by opening the Jordan and Kinneret dams and renewing the water flow to the Dead Sea. But this plan, which would also lead to the rehabilitation of the Jordan River, is still on the desk of the Green organizations and not in the hands of the decision-makers.

The Kinneret's water could be replaced by increased desalination along the Mediterranean.

However, this solution requires a dramatic change in thought regarding the use and recycling of water in Israel. Having fresh water flow into the Dead Sea will force the Israeli public to understand that the Dead Sea is the other end of the kitchen faucet and that saving water is vital to preserving this unique natural treasure.

Perhaps the government doesn't believe in the public's maturity, and prefers the grandiose canal solution. But in view of the difficulties, the government should at least conduct a thorough examination of the alternative solution.