Environmental and Social Impacts
The most worrying potential impacts of the project on the Dead Sea are:
- Changes to the layering, stability and circulation of the water body. It is expected that the project will not affect the horizontal circulation patterns but that it will create a more stratified lake, with a 50m-deep surface layer consisting of less saline water. Below the surface layer, there will be little change in the highly saline and very dense deep layer, which will continue to extend at the bottom, due to the discharge of brine by the chemical industry.
- Changes in chemical composition. In the long run, the surface layer will take on the characteristics of ocean water concentrated by evaporation. The chemical composition of the main body of water will probably continue to change, as it has during the last 50 years, as long as the chemical industry continues to operate.
- Possible increase in the frequency and duration of red-algae blooms. The Dead Sea modelling study shows that, for a discharge of less than 400 MCM/yr of Red Sea water or ejected brine, the salinity will not fall below the threshold below which algal blooms can develop. For a discharge of 1,000 MCM/yr, the salinity will fall to the critical value below which bacteriological phenomena may begin to affect the Dead Sea.
- Possible increase in the frequency and duration of whitening events. When Red Sea water is mixed with Dead Sea water, gypsum will precipitate. If the precipitation takes the form of small crystals, the gypsum will float to the surface, causing a whitening effect. It is not yet clear whether the gypsum will stay in suspension, giving the upper layer a milky colour or whether some of the gypsum crystals will float on the surface as a white powder, which would seriously affect the aesthetics of the Dead Sea, or whether the gypsum will form large crystals that will sink to the bottom. Further study is required.
- Possible changes in the salinity and buoyancy of the surface layer. The density of the surface layer is currently 1,240g/L and will continue increasing, to 1,360g/L. During the project, the density will decline to 1,170g/L, which is slightly higher than the density 50 years ago.
The original project aims to mitigate environmental degradation of the Dead Sea, which includes:
- Decline of the Dead Sea level. The present rate of decline of 1.1m/yr will be stopped and the decline may, to some extent, be reversed.
- Creation of exposed mudflats and resultant windblown dust. Over the last 50 years some 30 km2 of seabed has been exposed. These mudflats are very unattractive to tourists, and their spread damages the tourism industry.
- Creation of sinkholes. A large number of sinkholes (more than 3,000) has suddenly appeared, destroying buildings, roads and agricultural land and limiting recreational and commercial activities.
- Decline of the groundwater table. With the fall in the level of the Dead Sea, the groundwater table in the vicinity has fallen and wells have dried up.
- Damage to infrastructure. Surface water channels draining to the Dead Sea have suffered erosion due to the falling level. Erosion has also caused extensive damage to both public and private infrastructure.
- Decline in tourism. Statistics show that there has been a decline in international tourist visits to the Dead Sea, which may be attributable to the degradation of the Dead Sea.
The social assessment shows that most of the negative impacts will occur during the construction period and arise mainly from the influx of foreign workers into a sparsely populated, poor and socially and religiously conservative area. On the other hand, there will be possibilities for additional employment. During operation, there will be some employment opportunities at the desalination and power plants. Other benefits provided by the supply of potable water will be felt mostly outside the project area.