Israel and Jordan are moving ahead with a plan to build a water-carrying canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which will rehabilitate the shrinking Dead Sea and supply drinking water to Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians.
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian Water Minister Hazim Nasser on Monday announced the release of the $800 million tender, which will be formally published Tuesday. The two nations, which made peace in 1994, are seeking a company to construct the canal and operate it for 25 years.
“Today we took an additional historic step to save the Dead Sea,” said Shalom, who served as water minister in the last government, on a trip to Jordan on Monday. “The joint international tender to be published tomorrow is proof of the cooperation between Israel and Jordan, and a response to those who cast doubt on whether the canal project would ever go ahead. This is an exceptional environmental and diplomatic achievement that testifies more than anything to the fertile cooperation between the [two] countries.”
The pipeline will take some four or five years to complete. It will be 180 kilometers long and will pass through Jordanian territory, carrying around 200 million cubic meters of seawater from the Red Sea — at the very southern tip of Israel — per annum.
A desalination plant in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, across the gulf from the Israeli resort town of Eilat, will produce the drinking water. Israel will receive around 30-50 million cubic meters of potable water, which will go to Eilat and communities in the arid Arava region, while Jordan will use 30 million cubic meters for its own southern areas.
One hundred million cubic meters of the highly saline byproduct of the process will be piped north to the Dead Sea — the lowest point on earth at some 427 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level — to replenish the lake, whose level has dipped precariously in recent decades. Environmentalists have warned, however, that pumping the water into the Dead Sea will endanger the ecology of the region.
The project will be funded and supported by the World Bank, the US and several European countries.
The idea of a conduit between the two bodies of water was first put forward by the British during the 19th century. In the 1990s, after Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement, the idea of laying a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea began to gain momentum.
In 2005, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan jointly asked the World Bank to lend its resources to a feasibility study for a project to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which would include desalination of some of the water. They also requested an investigation into the potential environmental impact of such a project.
The study, executed between 2008 and 2013, found that it was financial viable, and the three partners signed an agreement on the project in December 2013.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.