Israeli Hadashot News announced on Friday that as a result of secret talks in New York between Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and his Jordanian counterpart led to a final agreement between the two countries that will allow a project to build a canal connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea to move forward.
According to the new agreement, each country pledged $40 million per year to the project for 25 years, which would bring the total to at least $2 billion.
An agreement to created the canal was originally signed in 2013. The plan was to pump water from the Red Sea to a desalination center in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The brine byproduct was to be piped 125 miles north to the Dead Sea. This was to the mutual benefit of Jordan and Israel since it would provide potable water to both countries while replenishing the Dead Sea. Palestinians will be able to buy desalinated water from the Jordanians at cost. Since the Dead Sea is at a lower elevation than the Red Sea, this will allow the creation of a hydro-electric power plant.
“This is the largest joint project in the Middle East between Israel and an Arab state,” Hanegbi said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Jordan has severe water issues and Israel wants to maintain Jordan’s stability. It’s the country with which we have our longest border.”
The construction of the first phase is expected to take 7 years and include extraction of 400 million cubic meters of seawater per year, resulting in 210 million cubic meters per year of freshwater and 190 million cubic meters per year for discharge into the Dead Sea.
The water level in the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of more than one meter per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 30 percent in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the diversion of over 90 percent of the water of the Jordan River for agriculture in both Jordan and Israel. The decline of the Dead Sea level is creating major environmental problems, including sinkholes and receding seashores. The supersaturation of the water of the Dead Sea also endangers the Dead Sea Works, a major industry based on extracting minerals from the Dead Sea.