August 22, 2006

Study to Top Up Dead Sea May Start Soon

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A study of a $2-$4 billion project to top up the shrinking Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea could start in the coming months, a World Bank official said on Tuesday.

France, the United States, the Netherlands and Japan have signaled their willingness to help fund a $15 million feasibility study of how to reverse a 25 meter (82 ft) fall in the level of the Dead Sea in the past century.

"We are working with a number of other donors," Vahid Alavian, in charge of the project at the World Bank, told reporters during a conference of more than 1,000 water experts in Stockholm.

"Our hope is that in the next 2-3 months we can have all the agreements in place and we will launch this study," he said.

Alavian said Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were committed to the study of the 180 km (110 mile) "Two Seas Canal" plan despite the Lebanon war and clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The three beneficiary parties continue to remain committed and interested in the process," he said. The Dead Sea has been shrinking because of increased use of water upstream from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea's main source.

Any link between the seas might include a hydro electric plant to capitalize on the drop of about 450 meters from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth's surface.

The study would also examine environmental impacts. Alavian said the Dead Sea was too salty for all but a few salt-loving micro-organisms. It was unclear whether the sea would be affected by less salty Red Sea water.