FoEME attended two of the recent Public Consultation hearings held by the World Bank about their recently released Initial Assessment Report of their ongoing study of a Red-Dead Conduit project. The objectives of the water conveyance project are to replenish water in the shrinking Dead Sea back to a level of 420m below sea level, and generate much needed drinking water.
The feasibility study, expected to be released in June 2011, examines social and environmental impacts of the project. The technical study focuses on how to bring water (1,000-2,000 mcm per year) from the Red Sea via different combinations of tunnels, pipelines, and open channels totalling 160km; where in the Red Sea the water intake point will be; and how to engineer the most effective desalination plant and hydroelectric plants. Environmental and Social Assessment consultants are also analyzing the impacts on ecology and local communities for each of the project variables. A draft report of their initial findings is expected in the next six weeks.
Two days prior to the hearing, the Israeli Environmental Coalition (of which FoEME is a part) held a media tour of the Dead Sea Works’ experimental mixing pools. Created by the potash company two years ago, the pools aim to predict how the Red Sea and Dead Sea waters would react if mixed together. Many national and international journalists joined on this rare opportunity to see the pools that are often kept from public view. The ongoing experiments have striking results to date. Depending on the proportions of Red-Dead water, there are changes in colors, algae growth, and/or the formation of gypsum in the water. More shocking was that the researchers responsible for the project cannot yet explain what is causing these effects.
The public consultation in Jerusalem on June 16 – one of five held this week – brought an array of concerned community members ranging from environmentalists, health specialists, scientists, industry workers, politicians, and more.
Environmentally, major concerns focused on unpredictable biodiversity loss upon mixing the two different water compositions in such huge quantities, impact on the coral reefs in the bay of Eilat from construction and water removal, difficulty restoring the desert landscape after construction, and risks of conduit failure on the environment. Reference to the environmental rehabilitation of coal mining areas in the Negev and oil pumping in the Gulf of Mexico were concrete examples of why the Red-Dead project is too risky for its worth. Also, this project will have a negative net energy, meaning more power plants will have to be built to support it.
Representatives from the mineral production industry are concerned that brine from the Red Sea water will promote algae and bacteria growth and reduce salt and potash production. Gidon Bromburg, FoEME’s Israeli director, remarked that the original objective to provide affordable drinking water has been twisted to providing drinking water at any cost. Member of the Knesset, Nitzan Horowitz spoke to the importance of giving more adequate time to alternatives to the proposed project, arguing that less than 12 months of study is insufficient to determine the feasibility of other options.
Most people agreed that the study is rushed and lacking thoroughness. Concerns were raised about the current pilot projects being conducted independent of the World Bank study by the governments of Israel and Jordan. The variety of concerns were best summed up when one speaker commented, “this is not an environmental improvement project, it’s an engineering project.” There is no easy alternative, but FoEME insists that rehabilitating the Lower Jordan River, the Dead Sea’s natural tributary, is utterly necessary, and absolutely achievable.
The World Bank panel was sympathetic to the issues raised, though defensive at times. They reiterated that the project originated at the unified request of the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian governments, and that they are managing it on the behalf of those parties. Responses to question and inquiries from the consultation are expected to be posted on their website within the next 2 months.
This post was written by the FoEME interns Tammy Stern, Brooke Cromar, and Efrath Silver.
Photographs provided by Brooke Cromar.