World and Nation

Israel, Jordan, and Palestinians sign water project deal

JERUSALEM — In a rare display of regional cooperation, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement Monday to build a Red Sea-Dead Sea water project that is meant to benefit all three parties.

The project addresses two problems: the acute shortage of clean fresh water in the region, especially in Jordan, and the rapid contraction of the Dead Sea. A new desalination plant is to be built in Aqaba, Jordan, to convert salt water from the Red Sea into fresh water for use in southern Israel and southern Jordan — each would get 8 billion to 13 billion gallons a year. The process produces about the same amount of brine as a waste product; the brine would be piped more than 100 miles to help replenish the already very saline Dead Sea.

Under the agreement, Israel will also provide Amman, the Jordanian capital, with 8 billion to 13 billion gallons of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, and the Palestinians expect to be able to buy up to 8 billion gallons of additional fresh water from Israel at preferential prices.

The agreement was signed at the Washington headquarters of the World Bank, a sponsor of the project.

The water level in the Dead Sea, an ancient salt lake whose shores are the lowest dry places on Earth, has been dropping by more than 3 feet a year, mainly because most of the water in the Jordan River, its main feeder, has been diverted by Israel, Jordan or Syria for domestic use and irrigation; very little now reaches the lake. Potash industries on either side of the lake have also had a detrimental impact. About 25 miles of the Dead Sea’s shoreline lie in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and are claimed by the Palestinians as part of a future state.

Israeli officials said that proposals would soon be solicited internationally from private companies to build and operate the desalination plant in Aqaba, which is meant to operate on a commercial basis, selling the potable water to Jordan and Israel. The brine pipeline to the Dead Sea, estimated to cost at least $240 million, would be financed by donor countries and organizations, with the World Bank providing a bridge loan.

The brine pipeline will run through Jordanian territory, because the planning process in Jordan is quicker and less liable to be slowed by the objections of environmentalists and other opponents, according to Israeli officials. They said that the added brine’s effects on the Dead Sea would be carefully monitored.

The project has been discussed and studied in various forms for 20 years.