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Saving the Dead Sea

Other issues plague the newer hotels on the Jordanian side of the sea. At the Mövenpick Resort & Spa at the northeastern shore, the former public relations manager, Helene Leuenberger, tells me, “The sand is always growing because of the change in water level.” In recent years, a new retention wall was created to prevent the property’s beach from collapsing further into the water. I notice work being carried out at night to avoid disturbing the guests; panels of plastic sheeting screen off the view of a backhoe plying up and down the sand.

At the lavish Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea nearby, the guest entrance needed to be relocated just two years after the opening in 2006 as a result of the water’s decline. I find a note in my hotel room, asking me to conserve water since “Jordan has one of the lowest resource available per capita in the world.” The hotels strive to keep such problems in check, but in the meantime the Jordanian government has urged accelerating the canal plan, since it views the project not only as a way to preserve an invaluable natural site, but also as a means to generate hydroelectric power.

As an alternative to the canal, Bromberg and other environmentalists advocate improving management of water resources to increase inflows from the Jordan River. But many experts see this as unrealistic. According to Nadav Lensky, a researcher at the Geological Survey of Israel, it would take more than 200 billion gallons of water a year, or the equivalent of a third of the total amount that Israel uses, to halt the sea’s decline and maintain its current level.

Anyone who has experienced the serene beauty of the Dead Sea understands the urgency driving those eager to halt its demise. I look out across the borders between Israel and its Arab neighbors, hoping that saving this shared natural legacy will be as curative as the fabled powers of the sea itself.

Michael Z. Wise is a T+L contributing editor.

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