$5B Plan: Canal From Red Sea to Dead Sea

In water-deprived Jordan, PM makes water top priority, pushes plan for canal.

ByABC News
July 12, 2008, 1:47 PM

July 12, 2008 — -- The Dead Sea is lowest place on Earth and it keeps getting lower.

Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Dahabi is concerned about the sea. In fact, he announced Saturday that finding additional water resources for his citizens and the Dead Sea are top priority.

This year the rate of decline in the sea's level is expected to be over 4 feet; the cause is man-made. People are using 90 percent of the Dead Sea's main source, the Jordan River, for farming and drinking.

As the Dead Sea's water recedes, hundreds of sink holes have appeared making the coastline dangerously unstable, which is not good for tourism. The sea is one the region's biggest attractions and has one of the world's most unique environments.

Zabu Levin has lived at the Ein Gedi Health Spa for 45 years, which was once close to the sea but today is 1,000 yards away. The spa has struggled as the water has receded, but Levin has been responsible for designing elaborate ways for tourists to reach the sea.

"We are chasing the water," Levin says.

But now, there is a bold new plan to save the sea, a $5 billion canal. It will pump water from the Red Sea to boost the Dead Sea.

It is a joint Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian venture that seems to have all the answers, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

Itai Gavrieli, who works for Israeli's Geological Institute, is skeptical. "We are playing with the environment. The Dead Sea has not seen sea water in two million years," he says.

Scientists fear mixing the waters could produce huge amounts of algae turning the Dead Sea red.

"We think that there would be more problems created than problems solved. We would like to see the Jordan River rehabilitated," says Mira Edelstrein, an environmentalist from Friends of the Earth.

Even if the plan is approved, it will take 10 years to build. And every day the Dead Sea keeps slipping away.