Cover Image
close this bookHydropolitics along the Jordan River. Scarce Water and Its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (UNU, 1995, 272 pages)
close this folder4. Interdisciplinary analysis and the Jordan River watershed
close this folder4.4. Cooperation-inducing implementation: Three examples
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.4.1 Towards an agreement for sharing existing resources
View the document4.4.2 Negotiations over the mountain aquifer
View the document4.4.3 A Med-Dead or Red-Dead Canal as a cooperation-inducing desalination project

4.4.3 A Med-Dead or Red-Dead Canal as a cooperation-inducing desalination project

A final example of cooperation-inducing design involves plans for a large-scale regional desalination project. In guidelines from history we noted that "the more complex a project is technically, the more complex it is politically." Although at first pass the project that follows is fairly complex, it will be argued that, if attention is paid to detail, it can be designed as a series of smaller projects, each with the potential to be developed more fully and with increasing cooperation as technical and political developments occur.

What follows is a conceptual proposal for a regional desalination complex, including sections on (1) background (the Agro-Industrial Complex [1960s] and the Med-Dead Canal [1980s]), (2) project description, (3) economic considerations, (4) environmental impacts, and (5) implementation in the framework of a regional water development plan.

Historical background: The Agro-lndustrial Complex and the MedDead Canal

Immediately after the Six-Day War of 1967, Dwight D. Eisenhower (by then a private citizen), Lewis Strauss of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Alvin Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, developed a "water for peace" proposal on a massive scale, including a series of nuclear desalination plants in the Middle East that would provide power and water for immense agro-indus trial complexes, to ease the political tensions caused by refugees and water scarcity (Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Summary Report 1971; Strauss 1967).

The plan was given a boost by Senate Resolution 155, sponsored by Senator Howard Baker, which supported development at three likely sites in Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. Recently declassified reports show that a fourth site, at Gaza, was also planned in conjunction with a project for refugee resettlement (Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Gaza Area 1970) (see appendix I, map 26.) As described earlier, the plan faltered on political and economic grounds, along with the dangers of introducing nuclear technology to the region. Nevertheless, two years of cooperative research between Americans, Arabs, and Israelis, showed that, on the technical level at least, cooperation over regional water resources and planning was possible.

Fifteen years later, in the early 1980s, the Israelis began planning a canal designed primarily for hydropower by bringing Mediterranean sea water across the Negev Desert and under the Judaean Hills to drop it 400 m to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth. The 800 MW of electricity that would have been made available by this Med-Dead Canal would, by itself, just have been worth the cost of the project, estimated at US$1,500-$5,000 million, but the benefits of several ancillary projects, made possible by the salt water for cooling or artificial lakes, added viability to the scheme (Mediterranean-Dead Sea Company Ltd 1983). That project was finally shelved, mostly on the question of the final cost. Although it was an exciting project, the Med-Dead Canal focused on power generation, rather than water, and was politically unilateral, bringing benefits only to Israel (see appendix I, map 32). In fact, Palestinians objected to the intake, proposed for Qatif, because of a belief that it would further integrate Gaza with Israel. Jordan protested about the anticipated rise in the level of the shared Dead Sea, and three separate resolutions condemning the proposal were brought before the UN General Assembly. Jordan took the opportunity, however, to investigate the possibility of a similar (and even more short-lived) proposal of its own the "Red-Dead" Canal.

Project description

The best aspects of the two types of projects - the regional approach and emphasis on international cooperation of the Agro-Industrial Complex and the comparatively safe energy applications of the Med-Dead Canal - might be combined and expanded for a new hybrid pro ject for water and power for the 1990s. The project, in turn, could be incorporated in a badly needed regional water development plan for the Middle East.

The core of the complex would be either a Med-Dead or a Red-Dead Canal, with a new emphasis on desalination fuelled by hydropower and augmented with solar and conventional energy generation. Whereas the original plans were focused on power generation and unilateral development, a new approach would make available power and water, both fresh and salt, for agriculture, fish and algae ponds, industry, and even recreation on artificial lakes, in sparsely populated areas, to the benefit of populations from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank. The scope of the project could be expanded, depending on cost, financing, and on which of the countries and territories of the region would become involved, with greater benefits accruing with larger scale. Although more groundwork has been done on the Med-Dead route, most of the components of the project are feasible with either location, should the Red-Dead route become more technically or politically attractive. Either way, the focus on water, rather than on power, and an emphasis on cooperative regional development over unilateral benefits, may add both economic and political viability to the original evaluations.

The Med-Dead salt-water canal would have been located in a particularly opportune position to foster regional cooperation (see appendix I, maps 4 and 32). The intake would have been located in or near the Gaza Strip - the site both of some of the most squalid and densely populated refugee camps in the world, and of severe groundwater overpumping. The canal would have run parallel to the Egyptian-Israeli border. Were these two countries to set aside some of this sparsely populated land, power and water from the project could be routed to a trinational (Egyptian/Israeli/Palestinian) agro-industrial site in the Negev-Sinai deserts. A Red-Dead route would likewise provide the opportunity for a Jordanian/Israeli/Palestinian complex. Ample agricultural land exists along both routes, limited currently by the lack of a freshwater supply. A large plain south and east of Gaza and El-Arish, the Plain of Pelusium, was one site suggested for an agroindustrial complex (and, in 1902, as the possible site of a Jewish State) because of its suitability for a wide variety of agriculture. Similar tracts exist further inland in both the Sinai and Negev deserts if the intake were placed at Qatif, as planned for the Med-Dead Canal.

For a Red-Dead route, agriculture and industry could be developed in the Arava Valley on both sides of the Israel-Jordan border. The minimal development in this region has been limited only by a steady supply of fresh water. Both Israel and Jordan are currently attempting to overcome the natural limits through water transfers: both foresee this area as the eventual terminus of their respective national water carriers. Joint development and a local water supply could eliminate the need for redundant planning and piping.

Either project, as originally envisioned, would be ideally suited for clean power generation. Not only could clean hydropower be generated at the Dead Sea, but this could be augmented by high-temperature solar generation of electricity. The region has 300 cloudless days a year.

The crucial contribution of the project, however, would be water-with power being a useful by-product. Current research into the concept of solar ponds suggests that water of two distinct salinities will trap heat in the lower, denser layer. The heat differential can be exploited to power turbines, or to fuel distillation desalination. The relatively less-saline water of the Mediterranean or Red Sea would provide the cover to a lower, more saline level of Dead Sea water. A 5 MW demonstration plant recently went on line at the Dead Sea. One estimate is that the Dead Sea itself could support a 450 km2 solar lake, operating a 2,500 MW power plant, if the less-saline water were made available. If a dual-purpose plant for power generation and distillation desalination were to be built at the intake (as proposed along the Israeli coast or at Aqaba in any event), the resulting brine from the desalination process could be used for smaller self-perpetuating solar pond/desalination plants all along the way to the Dead Sea. The project could thereby grow as power or water demand increased. The brine, which is a byproduct of any desalination process, would find use in the potash and salt works of both Israel and Jordan, already active at the Dead Sea.

The 400 m drop at the Dead Sea could be used not only for hydropower generation, but, in conjunction, could also be exploited for reverse-osmosis desalination - a pressure-dependent method using selective membranes adding even more fresh water as output. The cost of desalinated water would be sharply reduced if brackish water were used instead of sea water. As it happens, brackish fossil aquifers have recently been discovered in this area, in and below the Nubean sandstone formation underlying the Negev-Sinai deserts, which could be tapped for at least 300 MCM/yr into the twenty-first century. Re cent research at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev suggests that even more brackish-to-saline groundwater may be available in these aquifers than previously thought.

If enough fresh water became available, it could be exported to other areas of chronic shortage such as the West Bank or Jordanian cities. The water itself need not be piped to these regions; rather, water provided at Gaza or in the Negev would allow for a water reallocation from the northern sources of the Jordan River, abundant but currently fully exploited, to be substituted. Additional Yarmuk water could go to Amman, for example, or more of the storage in the Sea of Galilee could be allocated to Haifa or Ramallah. Cooperative planning would allow for greater alternatives for such reallocations and enable the most efficient and economical approach to be developed.

Such a Med-Dead, or Red-Dead, agro-industrial project would take advantage of sparsely populated lands for agricultural and industrial production utilizing two ports (Gaze and/or Eilat/Aqaba), add impetus to regional cooperation and refugee resettlement, and help to alleviate the area's water shortage.

Because of the currently relatively high cost of water produced through desalination, the complex might become a showcase for the cutting edge of desalination techniques and efficient water use. If these techniques were investigated jointly between researchers from the region and abroad, the results could have application in arid regions around the world. Employment at all levels would also be provided for dangerously underemployed populations, such as Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank and immigrant Israelis from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union. New sources of water and power would provide opportunities for a range of ancillary projects, from inland power plants to artificial lake resorts to salt-water aquaculture. These projects could induce population inward away from the crowded coast and might eventually support entire towns.

Either route would face clear obstacles in terms of political viability. One optimistic note, however, is that proponents of both the Med-Dead and the Red-Dead Canal include prominent nationalists on both sides of the Jordan River. The former Israeli Minister of Science and Technology, Yuval Ne'eman of the right-wing Tehiya party, has been actively supporting the MedDead Canal since its inception, while Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan has been a principal advocate of the Red-Dead Canal.

Economic considerations

The project, as described, would not be cheap. The original agro-industrial complex was estimated at about US$1,000 million (1967), and this was before nuclear plant decommissioning costs were included in the analyses. The MedDead Canal costs were estimated as from US$1,500 to US$5,000 million (1982), even without the ancillary projects. Nevertheless, both original projects were calculated to break even at least, in benefit-cost analyses. It is assumed that a cooperative project, presented in the context of a Middle East working towards peace, would provide for several factors, outlined below, to help tilt the balance in the project's favour.

First, such a project would undoubtedly spark the interest, and induce the financing, of agencies and individuals interested in fostering Middle East cooperation. US, European, or World Bank grants or soft loans would add economic viability to the project. Adding "induced cooperation" as a benefit to water project evaluations (as yet unrecognized, at least by the World Bank) would help even further. The joint research and development components for desalination technology and efficient water use would qualify the project for the Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program of USAID.

Second, even without an anticipated Marshall Plan for a Middle East at peace, one might assume a certain "peace dividend" from countries no longer locked in a regional arms race, which might be reallocated to peaceful development. Water resource development is high on the list of priorities for all parties in the region, particularly in the light of both imminent and ongoing influxes of immigrants and refugees. Pooled investment resources and planning would allow for greater flexibility in design and, consequently, for greater economic efficiency in development.

Third, if Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states backed the scheme, their support might come in the form of inexpensive oil or natural gas for conventional power generation, with co-generation of desalination capability. This could substantially reduce the cost of these components of the project.

Fourth, although a 30-year project life was assumed in the calculations for the original Med-Dead Canal, there is no reason that this has to be the case. The flow rate of the canal will have to be cut back after a 20-year "filling period" when the Dead Sea reaches its historic level, but even then, a flow of 1,250 MCM/yr, which will just match evaporation rates, will not require too sharp a drop in power generation. Unlike a nuclear power plant, or even a dam, a Med-Dead or RedDead Canal, with the proper maintenance, could function indefinitely. Once the project has been amortized, power and water generation would become extraordinarily inexpensive (after Weinberg 1985).

Environmental impact

As with all grand schemes, the environmental assessments would need to be honest and rigorous. Many such projects have passed muster with benefitcost analyses conceived by the proponents, which deliberately or inadvertently ignored environmental costs. It is heartening that those who performed the environmental impact statement for the original Med-Dead Canal seem to have had their hearts in their work. "With the onset of fall," they wrote of the Jordan Valley plants, "the leaves turn yellow and colour the river landscape. The Jordan tamarisk is evergreen and colours the landscape with its pinkish-white blooms in the spring and summer..."

But the risks will come not just directly, from the movement of salt water through fragile desert ecosystems, but also indirectly, from inland population movement or from the necessary infrastructure, for example. Other risks include the unknown consequences of mixing water from two chemically distinct bodies - one researcher suggests that the result may be floating clumps of plaster of Paris in the Dead Sea. These risks will have to be accounted for throughout the project's implementation. A key element would be to include costs of environmental externalities from the beginning.

One clear environmental benefit of the project would be the restoration of the Dead Sea to its historic level. Before the national water projects of Israel and Jordan began diverting fresh water upstream in the 1960s, the inflow to the Dead Sea of fresh water just matched the rate of evaporation, and the lake level remained fairly constant. Since that time, the level has dropped 10 m, with an accompanying reduction in surface area. Early diversion schemes, from the turn of the century onward (Theodore Hertzl described a Med-Dead Canal in Altneuland ), each included an attendant project to ameliorate the effects of the loss of inflow to the terminal lake. Without such a project, the Dead Sea will continue both to drop and to shrink. Although not much wildlife is being affected in the Sea - except for bacteria, the Dead Sea is appropriately named - potash works and health resorts on both shores have had to contend with the costs of an increasingly distant shoreline. The lake would be restored after about 20 years, after which the amount of Mediterranean inflow would be pared back to equal the natural evaporation rate.

A dispersion of populations away from the congested and increasingly polluted population centres may also reduce health risks, especially from air pollution. Furthermore, the canal would allow an emphasis on solar desalination techniques, which are significantly less polluting than the planned alternative of coal-fired dual-purpose plants.

Environmental issues may help to determine the most desirable route for the project. It should be noted, for example, that the Med-Dead route would take a salt-water tunnel directly through the heart of the mountain aquifer of the Judaean Hills, on which the entire West Bank population is dependent and Israel relies for 40 per cent of its water supply. The possibility of potential environmental degradation effectively blocked an earlier proposal for a canal project through the Jezreel and Jordan valleys.

Cooperation-inducing stages of implementation in the framework of a regional water development plan

Once the legal and economic foundations have been laid for ownership and distribution of current sources, and the existing water supply and demand system is functioning at its most efficient (as described above), a project of the scope of a Med-Dead or Red-Dead Canal can begin to be implemented. At this point, too, it will be important to approach the project in stages, checking constantly for economic and engineering (including environmental) viability, and using each step to induce cooperation towards completion of the whole (see appendix VI).

The first phase can begin immediately, even as peace negotiations are in progress. A traditional (coal-fired) dual-purpose energy/desalination plant could be built in Gaza, the most parched of the areas under discussion. (The plant would be at Aqaba for a Red-Dead route.) Either way it would be designed both to be expandable, as need grows, and to serve later as the intake site for the Canal. Meanwhile, a pumped-storage facility would be built at the Dead Sea for Israeli or joint Israeli-Jordanian use. Such a facility pumps water up to a higher level of storage during off-peak hours, then generates hydropower electricity when demand is at its peak. This facility, too, can be designed to be incorporated in a Canal project, for hydro power generation with Mediterranean or Red Sea water. Both of these projects have already been in the planning stages for some time but coordination would be important to be able to proceed to the next phase.

Once the intake and the power generation facility are in place, even under different sovereignties, the incentive to connect the two and, later, to develop the consequent ancillary projects, would, one hopes, be powerful enough to help induce ever-increasing cooperation. Only when the two are linked would solar-pond desalination, (both at the Dead Sea and along the way), reverseosmosis desalination, aquaculture, and inland industry, be feasible.

The Canal project could not only be ideally suitable for development in such a stepwise fashion, dependent on increasing confidence-building incentives, but it could also be expandable, designed to incorporate additional components as power and water needs grow in the future.