Jordan has said it cannot foot the bill for its part in a hydroelectric and water desalination plan to run a canal from the Red Sea down to the Dead Sea, Maariv reported on Wednesday.

The report cited the Jordan Times, which recently quoted government sources as saying that the project will be dramatically scaled back. The Jordanian water minister explained that the cost, estimated to run to billions of dollars, is too high and will make the price of any desalinated water produced uneconomical.

The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee told Maariv that it was unfamiliar with the Jordan Times report.

“The purpose of the project is to advance regional peace through a desire to save the Dead Sea,” the ministry said, and added that the benefits from tourism and cooperation will easily compensate for the initial cost of the project.

The dream of using the drop in height from the Red Sea down to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, has been around for decades, but in 1998 Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority began serious research into building a canal. The initiators of the project hope to use the water to drive hydroelectric plants that would power desalination stations to produce up to two billion cubic meters of drinking water for the regional partners.

The highly saline by-product would continue on to finally replenish the depleted Dead Sea, where the water level has dropped by over 20 meters as its natural supply is diverted from the Jordan River in the north. The receding waters pose a serious danger by causing sinkholes along the shores of the sea.

The plan was hailed as a great example of regional cooperation; however, the project has been fraught with problems. Environmentalists oppose the idea and warn that pouring the brine by-product into the Dead Sea could cause further damage to the area — instead of saving it. The World Bank has invested $16 million in researching the feasibility of the plan; although the results were supposed to be published in 2010, they have so far not been released.