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Dead Sea is dying
( 2003-11-04 11:41) (Agencies)

The Dead Sea is dying, and only a major engineering effort can save it, Israel's Minister of the Environment said Monday.

The Dead Sea gets its name from its heavy salt content, because no aquatic creatures can live in it. Now there's a new "death threat" the Dead Sea is drying up and disappearing.

An Israeli TV reporter, illustrating the government report, stood on a spot where, just 20 years ago, water met land. Now that point is 2,000 feet of parched ground away, he said, as the sea gradually recedes.

Dried salt is encrusted on a timber frame floating in the Dead Sea as the popular Mineral Beach is deserted of tourists in this May 13, 2002 photo. The Dead Sea, one of the world's premier natural resources, is in danger of dying, and a radical engineering effort is necessary to save it, Israel Minister of the Environment said Monday.  [AP]
Because it is landlocked in a hot desert area, evaporation is high, accounting for the dense salt concentration that allows bathers to float above the water with no effort. The area is popular for spas and treatments, with luxury hotels on both sides.

For millennia, the balance was maintained by the Dead Sea's only water source, the Jordan River, pouring in from the north. In recent decades, however, both Israel and Jordan have been tapping in to irrigate large swaths of agricultural land along the narrow river that divides the two countries, robbing the Dead Sea of its replacement water.

A five-year drought has added to the woes of Dead Sea, which occupies the lowest point on Earth, 1,320 feet below sea level. The sea is about 38 miles long and about 11 miles wide.

The Israeli study said that without an intensive engineering effort, the sea's water level will continue to recede by as much as three feet per year, adjacent ground water will disappear, surrounding land will buckle and collapse, and nearby wildlife and vegetation will be lost.

Environment Minister Yehudit Neot said she would ask the Israeli Cabinet to hold a detailed discussion on the study's conclusions.

"If the conclusions are not implemented, there is a real danger to the future of the Dead Sea as a world class natural resource," Neot said.

The Environment Ministry study said that to secure the sea's future, engineers would have to develop a new infrastructure of bridges and roads leading to its shores. It recommended that resources be applied only in places where remedial engineering efforts would be successful, suggesting that many areas are already beyond repair.

Plans to use the difference in elevation between the Dead Sea and other bodies of water might also help solve the problem. The latest idea is to build a channel between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea, with waters rushing downhill driving electricity power stations.

The water pouring into the Dead Sea from the south would counter the deterioration, but environmentalists warn that water from the Red Sea is salty, while the Jordan River supplies fresh water, and this could have adverse consequences.

However, the Red Sea-Dead Sea channel project is still in planning stages, and experts say it might be prohibitively expensive.

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