This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate.
As the old saying goes, whiskey is for drinking—water is for fighting over.
The mythic Dead Sea—the highly salinated, low-altitude lake of international interest and importance—is drying up. Although the Jordan Rift Valley, where the Dead Sea is located, is known for frequent droughts, the decline of the Dead Sea is primarily due to human intervention—namely, the diversion of the Jordan River, the main lake source which feeds the Dead Sea, to provide potable water to increasing populations. A water level drop of one meter per year has led the surface area to decrease from 960 km2 to 620 km2 in the last fifty years. Today, the rate of decline is only increasing, giving rise to “extensive environmental degradation and damage to industry and infrastructure and . . . substantial intangible impacts and costs,” with an estimated direct cost to government and industry to be “some $2.9 billion over the next 60 years.”
Despite the lack of stability between the Dead Sea’s three bordering entities—the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority—a series of agreements between the groups have sought to address the problem of the disappearing Dead Sea alongside the problem of access to potable water. Facilitated by the World Bank Group, the Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study investigated the feasibility of reversing the environmental degradation of the Dead Sea by transferring seawater from the Red Sea. By introducing desalination into the transfer process, the hope of the three parties is that the Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance will address the environmental degradation of the Dead Sea and the lack of affordable energy and drinking water in the Jordan Rift Valley, while increasing political goodwill and cooperation between the parties.