Historic Israel-Jordan water deal scuppered by planners

Less than a week after ministers from Jordan and Israel launched pre qualification for an US$ 900 million desalination and water transfer project, local planning in Israel reject the proposed scheme.

The tender process for a build, operate, transfer project including a 65,000 Ml a year desalination plant was launched last week. But local planners turned down the proposal by national water company Mekorot to build a pipeline to carry brine form the desalination plant into Israel. The decision is expected to go to an appeal.

The project is expected to supply each nation with water and replenish the severely depleted Dead Sea. Its initial phase would include the construction of the a seawater desalination plant at Aqaba on Jordan’s Red sea coast. The facility will supply Jordan with 30,000 Ml annually and Israel will be able to buy 35,000 Ml a year to distribute to its desert south. The plant will be expanded to 85,000 Ml a year when Israel will be able to up its annual purchase to 50,000 Ml from the plant.

Residual hyper-saline brine from the Aqaba facility will be pumped north along a 180-km, US$ 400 million pipeline on the Jordanian side of the border, to replenish the Dead Sea.

Israel’s interior minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian water and irrigation minister, Hazim El Naser last week signed initial tendering documents for the so-called Red-Dead project.
”Today we took a further historic step to save the Dead Sea,” said Shalom at the launch.

”The joint international tender is proof of the cooperation between Israel and Jordan, and an answer to all those who doubted that the Red-Dead project would be realized,” he added.
Israel and Jordan signed a bilateral agreement in February to exchange water and funnel Red Sea desalination brine to the Dead Sea.

In return for Israel’s allowed purchases of water from Aqba, Jordan will be able to buy an additional water from Israel’s Lake Kinneret at 50,000 Ml a year - roughly doubling its current allocation.

”This is an extraordinary environmental and political achievement that indicates the fruitful partnership between the countries,” Shalom said.

The project will in fact be a pilot for the possible expansion of the programme, to up the desalination output and the volume of brine flowing to the Dead Sea, as well as other other modifications. The tender includes an option on a grid-connected hydroelectric power station.

Under the arms of the tender, the winning bidder must be from the private sector and will have to set up a special-purpose company under Jordanian law for the project. The final submission date is March 30, according to the tender.

The winning bidder will be charged also with securing all financing “without any recourse to the Water and Irrigation Ministry.” The ministry, however, will approach international financial institutions for grant funding to back the brine disposal and transfer elements of the project.

 Environmental lobbyists have mixed views of the project. Directors for EcoPeace Middle East, Israel’s Gidon Bromberg and Jordan’s Munqeth Mehyar, both welcomed the desalination project, but warned that the Dead Sea’s eco-system could be marred irreparably by pumping brine from the plant into it. The planning committee that rejected the project said the pipeline, could undermine efforts to rehabilitate the Jordan River. Opponents favour pumping water along the Jordan River to the Israeli-Jordanian border, which they claim would revive much of the polluted river.