Jordan and Israel sign historic deal to end the shrinking of Dead Sea


Jordan and Israel signed a historic deal last week to build a pipeline that would link the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea in an effort to combat regional water shortages and save the Dead Sea from drying out. The idea of linking the two bodies of water together has been around for more than a century. 

The deal sets in motion the implementation of the first phase of the pipeline which would pump about 300 million cubic meters of water annually. When all 4 planned pipelines are completed, the system would bring about 2 billion cubic meters of water annually. 

The Dead Sea is the lowest and saltiest body of water in the world continuously monitored since 1930 when its surface was 1 050 km2 (410 square miles) and its level 390 m (1 280 ft) below sea level.

The sea started rapidly shrinking in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began diverting water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea's main supplier.

From a water surface of 395 m (1 296 ft) below sea level in 1970 it fell 22 m (72 ft) to 418 m (1 371 ft) below sea level in 2006, reaching a drop rate of 1 m (3 ft) per year. 

At the current rate, the Dead Sea will dry out by the year 2050.

The Dead Sea 1972-2011. Image credit: NASA/Earth Observatory

The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater level drop, causing brines that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. 

This is believed to be the cause of the recent appearance of large sinkholes along the western shore – incoming freshwater dissolves salt layers, rapidly creating subsurface cavities that subsequently collapse to form these sinkholes.

Year Water level (m) Surface (km2)
1930 -390 1050
1980 -400 680
1992 -407 675
1997 -411 670
2004 -417 662
2010 -423 655
2014 -429 600


Sources: Jewish Virtual Library, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, Jordan Valley Authority

Under the agreement signed last week, some of the water pumped from the Red Sea would enter the Dead Sea while the rest would be desalinated at a plant to be built in the southern Jordanian port of Aqaba and shared with Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel would also release 50 million cubic meters more water from the Sea of Galilee, its largest reservoir, to Jordan (roughly double than what it releases now).

In addition, the agreement entails the construction of a 200-kilometer pipeline to carry brine from Aqaba plant to the Dead Sea.

The project, sponsored by the World Bank, will cost around $900 million and will take about three years to complete.

Featured image: The Dead Sea by Borya (CC – Flickr)

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