State allows Dead Sea Works to pump more water, as iconic lake recedes
The Water Authority appears to have ceded to the giant Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) by issuing an annual license that allows its Dead Sea Works plant to extract more water than last year from the iconic salt lake which is receding due to over pumping.
The authority will allow Dead Sea works to pump 445.8 million cubic meters in 2021, up from 439 million cubic meters last year – the first year in which pumping was determined by a government license.
Millions of additional cubic meters will be allocated to the company over the next few years – subject to information requested by the Water Authority – to compensate for water losses for reasons such as infiltration through the soils of its evaporation ponds and increased salinity of the Dead Sea. , which itself is in part the result of commercial pumping.
The Dead Sea recedes about 1.2 meters (four feet) each year. The Jordan River, historically the main source of water for the Dead Sea, is diverted for agricultural and other purposes by Israel, Jordan and Syria, all of which have growing populations.
ICL, which extracts two-thirds of the commercially exploited water from the Dead Sea (the rest by a Jordanian factory), diverts it to evaporation ponds for the production of minerals, mainly potash. The company said its operations were responsible for nine percent of the shrinking of the Dead Sea. Environmental organization Adam Teva V’Din puts the figure closer to 30%. Dead Sea Works returns approximately half of the water it pumps after use.
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Just under two years ago, after a long campaign, Adam Teva V’Din convinced the Haifa District Court to order the Water Authority to issue production licenses. The organization hoped the permits would be used to reduce the amount of water that could be pumped.
Until then, ICL was pumping at will, without a license, and had not paid at all for the water it used, so there was no economic incentive to save. (He still doesn’t pay for the water.)
Until the court ruling, the Water Authority had remained inactive, only obediently trying, after the legal action had started, to exercise some authority through voluntary guidelines it had signed. with the company in 2016.
In August 2019, Haifa Judge Ron Sokol wrote that a license would allow proper government oversight of business operations at the Dead Sea and ensure that private activities do not harm the public interest.
“Water sources that are not fresh water are also of public importance, important for the conservation of the environment, nature and the development of the country,” he wrote in his judgment. “The preservation of the Dead Sea as a source of water is of great public importance. If it is not preserved, there will be damage to the environment, to the interests of tourism and industry, the land that surrounds it will be damaged, the ecological balance too… ”
Leehee Goldenberg, director of Adam Teva V’Din’s economics, environment and natural resources department, said the amounts of water the Dead Sea plant was allowed to pump have slowed significantly His efforts.
“The ruling determined that the water law applies to the Dead Sea and that they need a license to continue their work. The disagreement is over the conditions. We think they should reduce pumping. It is a disappointing decision.
The withdrawal of the Dead Sea has exposed more than 300 square kilometers (115 square miles) of seabed over the past 50 years. Today, this area is dotted with some 7,000 sinkholes – cavities that form when the salt water between the salt rock and the fresh water recedes and the fresh water dissolves the rock, causing the water to fall. earth above.
Buildings, agricultural areas and beaches have been abandoned and development projects put on hold. On the Jordanian side, holes have reportedly opened in evaporation ponds used to commercially extract minerals.
The Dead Sea needs an additional 700 to 800 million cubic meters of water per year just to stay at its current level, and more than 1,000 million cubic meters to bring it down to 410 meters (1345 feet) below it. sea level, where it was in 1995.
The Dead Sea Works also owes considerable sums to a sovereign wealth fund that must be established to ensure that Israeli citizens – not just investors – profit from Israel’s natural gas windfall and the extraction of the country’s natural resources. .
Last year, Professor Eytan Sheshinski, who has headed government committees on the taxation of companies that exploit the country’s natural resources, said ICL – which owns the Dead Sea works franchise – should be forced to settle its debts with the State. This is estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of shekels – or else it will not be factored into the franchise renewal in 2030.
ICL is controlled by the Israel Corporation of the Ofer family, the country’s largest holding company. It makes fertilizers, metals and other chemicals from bromine, phosphate, magnesium and potash mined from the Dead Sea or mined elsewhere in the Negev Desert.