Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal - Environmental Impact

Environmental Impact

The transfer of mass volumes of water from one sea to another can bear drastic consequences on the unique natural characteristics of each of the two seas, as well as the desert valley which separates them, the Arabah. Some of these characteristics, especially in the Dead Sea area, are unique on a global perspective, and therefore crucially important for conservation. The environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East has protested against the allegedly premature approval of the project, without sufficient assessment of the project's impact on the natural environment of the area. The group lists several potential hazardous effects of the project on the unique natural systems of the Red Sea, the Dead Sea and the Arabah. These effects include:

  1. Damage to the unique natural system of the Dead Sea, due to mixing its water with Red Sea water, or brines created from the process of desalinating Red Sea water which has a different chemical composition. This includes changes in water salinity, massive formation of gypsum, formation of volatile toxic compounds, change in water evaporation rates, changes in the composition of bacteria and algae which inhabit the sea surface, chemical changes in the rocks which surround the water, and loss of unique health benefits that account for much of the tourist attraction to the Dead Sea area.
  2. Damage to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to water pumping.
  3. Damage to the natural landscape and ecosystem of the Arabah, due to the construction, and the increase in humidity caused by the open canal segments.
  4. Damage to the aquifer of the Arabah, due to contamination of groundwater with water from the Red Sea. The alluvial deposits in Wadi Araba contain important supplies of fresh water. In the event that the pipeline ruptures (as might happen in the case of an earthquake), these aquifers will be irreparably damaged. This can have fatal consequences to both the agriculture and ecosystem of the Arabah.
  5. Threats to archeological heritage. The pipeline will cross areas of important cultural heritage, such as Wadi Finan, where the earliest copper mining and extraction in the world took place.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Avner Adin said more studies were needed on the potential environmental impact. Israeli environmental NGOs say that the reestablishment of the Jordan River to its natural state was a better solution to the decline of the Dead Sea than the proposed canal.

The World Bank Study included Environmental Assessments carried out under the supervision of the World Bank by world renown experts found that the environmental risks of the project are manageable if the project is well planned and executed:

1. Damage to the unique natural system of the Dead Sea, due to mixing its water with Red Sea water. The report of: Tahal Group, The Geological Survey of Israel (GSI), Portland State University - Oregon, USA and Institute of Life Sciences - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stated:

  • "In order to stabilize the Dead Sea level, more than 700 MCM/yr (million cubic metres/year) of additional water is needed.
  • "The present conditions of the Dead Sea will be maintained at least up to inflow volume of about 400 MCM/yr".
  • "Potential for biological blooming exists only when stratification develops and the upper mixed layer is diluted by at least 10%"
  • "Once stratification develops and mixing occurs in the upper water column, there is a potential for "whitening"
  • Stratification may develop above inflow of 500-600 MCM/yr.

2. Damage to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba, due to water pumping. The report of: Thetis SpA, The Interuniversity Institute For Marine Sciences In Eilat, Marine Science Station University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, Aqaba and Israel Oceanographic and limnological Research institute, stated:

  • "The exchanges of water between the Gulf and the northern Red Sea through the Strait of Tiran are several orders of magnitude larger than those that would be induced by the proposed abstraction flows, such that the latter would likely be imperceptible except in the immediate vicinity of the sink. The expected effect of the abstraction on the heat budget of the gulf is also expected to be negligible".
  • "Based on above assessments our findings are for a "go" decision, as long as the intake configuration, location, and depth are selected properly".

3. Damage to the natural landscape and ecosystem of the Arabah and threats to archeological heritage sites due to construction and increased humidity caused by the open canal segments. According to the preferred scenario of the World Bank Study the conduit will be multiple buried pipelines and not canals. Special care will be taken to minimize the environmental and archeological damages.

4. Damage to the aquifer of the Arabah, due to contamination of groundwater with water from the Red Sea. The planning and construction of the pipelines will include measures to minimize the potential for pipeline ruptures.

Read more about this topic:  Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal

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