The Demise of the Red-Dead Canal?

In a recent presentation delivered in a working breakfast organized by EDAMA Minister of Water and Agriculture Hazim Al Naser has dropped a bombshell. The Minister has revealed that the government is now thinking seriously of replacing the Red-Dead Conveyor project with a series of lower budget projects that would provide drinking water to Jordan and its neighbors through the desalination of Red Sea water.

This is the 1st time that a high-level official suggests that the Red-Dead Sea project can be revoked. This is a decision that makes sense and comes at the right time.

During its presentation of the final results of the Environmental and Socio-economic feasibility studies for the project, the World Bank and the Ministry of Environment provided the regional stakeholders with many reasons to doubt the feasibility of the whole project.  If you have some time during Ramadan to read the full studies available here it would be a great educational exercise, but of not let me summarize the situation.

The plan is to pump 1.2 billion Cubic Meters of sea water from the Red Sea, pass it through a series of desalination plants, use the desalinated water for drinking, and discharge the brine to the Dead Sea, which should help restore it to its 20th century levels and prevent it from vanishing like the Aral Sea. The Dead Sea is a unique ecosystem — it is the world’s saltiest lake at the lowest altitude. Its surface is currently about 420 metres below sea level. Excessive use of tributary water from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers has reduced its level by 27 metres since the 1960s, a trend exacerbated by climate change and increased evaporation.

Red Dead

Although the feasibility and EIA studies recommended going ahead with the project they raised more questions than they answered, casting a shadow of uncertainty over its future.

The Dead Sea level will not be restored:

The seawater modelling exercises used in the studies indicate that it will be safe to discharge a maximum of 350 million cubic metres of sea water brine into the Dead Sea every year, but that any additional discharge will be detrimental to the environment.

The interaction between sulphate from the Red Sea and calcium from the Dead Sea will form a white layer of gypsum on the surface of the Dead Sea, destroying the aesthetic value and ecological integrity that currently attracts tourists to the area. The mixing of waters will also cause algae to grow, which would be devastating for the mineral industries that thrive along the Dead Sea’s shores.

The cap on discharge volume means the project can’t meet its original objective, since any realistic restoration of the Dead Sea to its condition around four decades ago would require adding 700 million cubic meters annually — double the threshold considered safe for the environment

Huge  Energy requirements:

Environmental safety is not the only risk. The project is also challenged by affordability. It needs to raise US$10 billion, and the only financing option is a huge private investment by a company that could sell water at a high-enough price to recoup its capital investment.

The financial feasibility study assumed that about 80 per cent of the project’s costs will be provided by loans and donors, with only a fifth from countries — both difficult in this global state of austerity.

And the project will need 800 megawatts of energy to drive the desalination, pumping and operation of the facilities — a requirement that cannot be met with the current, short-term forecasts of energy supply in the region.

The new option:

Faced with such barriers, any reasonable decision maker will pause and think a lot before committing to this dangerous adventure. During his above-mentioned presentation Minister Al Naser proposed another solution.

The alternative is based on a series of smaller scale and lower budget projects that start with the treatment and desalination of  Red Sea to produce 85 MCM of freshwater and 100 MCM of brine that will go into the Dead Sea. The produced freshwater will be provided to both Israel (50 MCM) and Palestine (35 MCM). In return Jordan will receive the same amount from Israel from sources in the northern Jordan valley.

Now I am getting confused and worried. Why desalinate and then sell the water to Israel while we can potentially link the resulting desalinated water to the alraedy existing Disi project pipeline?. I am not an engineer nor a plumber, and would love to know why such a linkage between the desalination plan in Aqaba and Disi infrastructure is not feasible.

This could provide a strategic additional source to bridge the water demand gap and at a much lower price, both financially and politically.

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About bwardam

Mr Batir Wardam is a Jordanian environmentalist with professional experience in disciplines of natural resource management, environmental policies and communication. He has a 15 years working experience with national academic institutions, NGOs, the government of Jordan and international and regional environmental organizations including UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. Mr Wardam is currently working with UNDP as a project manager for the third national communication report on climate change in Jordan.
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4 Responses to The Demise of the Red-Dead Canal?

  1. Dureid says:

    The idea here is to save energy by not pumping from Aqaba to Amman and a swap would run through normal routes, King Abdullah Canal to Zai without need for new piping. Such a scenario would enable Jordan to provide fresh water to closer population in the mid and central part of town. I presume this would also provide fresh water for new “refugees”.

  2. Thank you so much for the update! It’s great to see people thinking about these ideas, questioning them, and getting them out to the public eye. Shukran!

  3. Suzan says:

    One would have to put all the numbers together. Q1: Would KAC – Zai pipeline take the additional 85 million without increasing its capacity by adding new pipeline or replacing the older ones with larger diameters.
    Q2 What is the length of the new Zai pipe line compared to the new pipeline that will carry the water from the desalination plant in red sea to Disi pipe line.
    Q3: What is the inceremental pumping costs as a result of the two alternatives
    Q4: Would it be better to use the Disi pipeline to transfer desalinated water rather than Disi water itself and postpone the use of fossil aquifer water till later generation (keeping in mind that it is getting depleted on the saudi side)?
    Q5: Can we link desalination with production of energy that can be used locally and/or sold to the riparian countries.
    The answer to your question Batir is not straight forward without thinking about all the above and many more.

  4. James Mellar says:

    If Jordan is a desert with little to no rain, perhaps they should introduce herd animals to the region to trample the land while urinating and defecating on it. This experiment has successfully reclaimed desert land in Africa and America. I understand how this practice would cause plant life to grow in the soil, but from what I remember it also brings in more rain to the land, and I don’t understand how that works.

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