Nova (1974–…): Season 46, Episode 7 - Saving the Dead Sea - full transcript

Scientists, engineers, and political leaders devise a plan to save the Dead Sea, whose level has declined by more than 65 feet since 1976.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
The Dead Sea.

One of the most extraordinary
places on Earth.

The Dead Sea is unique
in many, many aspects...

Its chemistry,

its evolution,

its composition.

Its healing powers
are well-known.

And it was the setting
of dramatic events in the Bible.

It was considered

a very unusual
and extraordinary place

in antiquity.

The Dead Sea is very special.

It's a treasure.

But now this wonder of the world
is vanishing,

the shoreline pockmarked
with sinkholes.

One-third of the Dead Sea
surface has been lost

because of the lack of water.

The sea is in desperate need
of water

in one of the most water-scarce
regions on the planet...

The Middle East.

Access to water is a fundamental

basic human right.

Now a team of scientists

has developed
an innovative and daring plan

to help solve
the region's water shortage

and at the same time,
save a dying sea.

But will it work?

We can destroy it,

if we intervene too much.

"Saving the Dead Sea."

Next on "NOVA."

Major funding for "NOVA"
is provided by the following:

It is the lowest place
on the surface of the Earth,

more than 1,400 feet
below sea level,

ten times saltier
than any ocean.

In ancient times, this sea
was considered a threat.

The way it's presented in
the Bible can be...

quite negative.

Sodom and Gomorrah
were engulfed by the Dead Sea

as a punishment by God.

But this sea
has also been treasured

for its unique chemistry.

Aristotle wrote
about its remarkable water,

where everything floats.

According to legend, Cleopatra
ordered her lover, Mark Antony,

to conquer the sea
because of its mystical powers.

For thousands of years,
pilgrims have come here

to bathe in its healing waters.

The Dead Sea is really
very unique, very beautiful.

But now, this one-of-a-kind sea
is receding at an alarming rate.

We need a lot of water here.

The water balance here
is so in overdraft.

Back in the 1960s, the shoreline
was almost up to the road.

Now, in some areas,

it's a mile away.

And as the water declines,

the beach has become inundated
with sinkholes...

6,000 and counting.

It's like the craters
on the moon,

but here it's not the moon.

This is a dying sea.

Just three years ago, this beach
was visited by tourists

from around the world.

Now they evacuate the place.

All the infrastructures around,

they were being shut down,

like there was a gas station

and there used to be
a restaurant here.

It looks like a bombed area.

It looks like a war.

Look at this.

We're just walking on something
that used to be road.

This is a very dangerous area.

It is very, very important
that something be done here.

Now a massive engineering
project is in the works

to bring water back to the sea.

But will it succeed?

Can the Dead Sea be saved?

What's happening to the Dead Sea

is the age-old story
of life in the desert:

the story of water.

The Dead Sea is in the heart
of the Middle East,

bordered by Israel,
the Palestinian Authority,

and Jordan,

a region that is home

to five percent
of the world's population,

but just one percent
of its water,

making it one of the most
water-scarce regions

on the planet.

Palestine, Israel, and Jordan
are mostly desert.

Since the biblical time,
since the beginning of history,

we know that we have
a shortage of water.

The secret of the life

in this area

is the water.

And the rule is,
if there is water, there is life

and if there is no water,
there is no life.

All people need water.

Israeli as well as
the Palestinians, Jordanians,

as a human being.

Water is not a choice.

Water is a must.

But to solve the region's
water shortage,

Israelis, Palestinians,
and Jordanians

have to overcome
years of conflict.

It is the most troubled area
in the world,

and the Israeli-Arab conflict

has been running
for the last 70 years or more.

Always, water is there

if countries want an excuse
to initiate a conflict.

Water can be a cause
of conflict,

but we will prefer it
as a means of cooperation.

In a unique three-way agreement

between Israelis, Jordanians,
and Palestinians,

a plan was developed called
the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea
Conveyance Project

speaks about supplying drinking
water for the Middle East

and stabilizing the Dead Sea,

that's what the Red Sea-Dead Sea
is about.

It is an elaborate plan
with many steps.

Jordan will get more water
through a pipeline

from a lake in Israel
called the Sea of Galilee.

The Palestinian Authority
will get more water, too,

from the existing
Israeli water system.

And in Southern Jordan,
a desalination plant

will be built on the shores
of the Red Sea.

The salty leftovers from
the process of desalination,

called brine,

will be transported
through a massive pipeline

and emptied into the Dead Sea
to raise its level.

It's a regional
cooperation project.

I think it's the first one
and the biggest one

between Israel, Jordan,
the Palestinian Authority.

This plan could represent
an important step

in bringing peace to the region,

but at the same time,
is it good for the Dead Sea?

It is one of the world's
largest water experiments

and no one is sure
if it will work.

For scientists, the project
is an enormous challenge

that involves linking two seas
that have never been connected

in all of human history:

the Red Sea...

and the Dead Sea.

The geology of the region
has made the Dead Sea

one of the most mineral-rich
bodies of water on Earth.

No one knows exactly how a
massive influx of Red Sea brine,

the leftovers from the proposed
Jordanian desalination plant,

will affect
its unique chemistry.

The composition of the water
is very complicated.

It's not similar to any other
seawater on Earth.

Every time that we are working
with the Dead Sea,

we have many surprises.

Here, at Ben-Gurion University
in Be'er Sheva, Israel,

researchers are trying
to eliminate those surprises.

They're mixing Red Sea water,
or brine,

with the unique water
of the Dead Sea.

In the laboratory,
we're trying to do experiment.

We are playing
with different ratio,

different concentration,

different temperature...

We're playing
with all the conditions

in order to learn

what will happen
to the Dead Sea.

After months of mixing, they
make an alarming observation.

The Dead Sea,
instead of the regular color,

could turn white.

Tiny white crystals could form.

There's no doubt it will be
a shocking aesthetic change.

What causes
this strange transformation?

A mineral called gypsum.

It's used in plaster of Paris,

orthopedic casts...

Even toothpaste.

Gypsum is a combination
of calcium and sulfate.

It turns out that the Dead Sea
is rich in calcium

and the Red Sea rich in sulfate.

Combined together,

you get gypsum crystals.

In the lab,
some of the concoctions

the scientists cook up

form gypsum
in a matter of hours.

How long this process will take
when Red Sea brine

meets the Dead Sea
on a massive scale

is unclear.

Will it take years, or perhaps
never happen at all?

If we say that there
is something

that we fully understand,

then we... basically,
we are lying to ourselves.

I think that being a geologist,

one of the things I learned
is modesty.

The condition in nature
are much more complicated

than in the laboratory.

To play it safe,
the scientists recommend

bringing in a small amount
of Red Sea brine to start.

You don't want to come
to help the Dead Sea

and find yourself harming it.

Therefore, the decision
is to go in stages.

And if a smaller amount doesn't
affect the sea's chemistry,

they'll add in more, bit by bit.

And in the future,

when we will have the second
stage and the third stage,

the Dead Sea will be stabilized,

Stabilizing the sea
will end its decline.

But the amount of Red Sea brine
it will require each year

is hard to fathom...

Almost 200 billion gallons.

But whitening is just
one of the challenges.

Brine from the Red Sea is only
about seven percent salt,

while the Dead Sea
is a whopping 34%.

Mix them together,

and it could lower
the Dead Sea's salt content,

and that might turn the sea red.

Just like it did right outside
of Salt Lake City, Utah,

in America's Great Salt Lake.

When one flies over
the Great Salt Lake,

one sees that the northern lake
is in fact red.

A large causeway
divides the lake in two.

One end gets very little
fresh water,

and when its salt content
rose to more than 25%,

it became the perfect
breeding ground for algae.

Researchers estimate mixing
Red Sea brine and Dead Sea water

will hit the same
salty sweet spot,

and the sea could turn red.

In fact, the growth of algae
has occurred

in other salt lakes,
like Lake Retba in Senegal

and Lake Hillier in Australia.

Unlike red tide,
the algae that might grow here

would not be harmful to humans,

but the sea might never
look the same.

As scientists, we say,
"Look, this is a consequence

of what can we foresee
and what can we predict."

Predicting how nature
will respond

to the mixing
of two very different seas

is just one of the problems
researchers face.

Unraveling the mystery
of where and when

the next Dead Sea sinkhole
will form

is another.

Carmit Ish Shalom

is trying to do just that.

For years,
she measured sinkholes

the "old-fashioned way":

with a measuring tape.

It's very, very sophisticated.

Just throw it down there.

But for areas where sinkholes
are just beginning to develop...

she uses a drone.

We can see the whole sinkhole

from above,

and we can see how big it is.

Each month,
we are monitoring them,

trying to see the changes
in the size, in the depth,

how fast they form.

There's many kinds of sinkholes
in the world.

The kind that we have here
in the Dead Sea is very unique.

Most sinkholes form in rock,
like limestone,

but here at the Dead Sea,
they're caused by salt.

As the sea declines,

an underground layer of dry salt
is left behind.

Fresh water,
like in winter flash floods,

saturates that salt,
which quickly dissolves,

creating an underground cavity.

Over time, it grows bigger,

until, suddenly,
without warning,

the earth above it caves in.

While the cause of Dead Sea
sinkholes is well known,

after 20 years
of careful measurement,

there is still no detectable
pattern for sinkhole formation.

Each sinkhole seems to follow
its own rules.

We don't really know
when the next one will form,

next year,
or maybe two years from now,

or maybe tomorrow.

It is just a miracle
that nobody got hurt or died

in a sinkhole.

But if the sea doesn't get
more water, that could change.

More sinkholes will form...

As many as 500 a year
are predicted.

What brought the Dead Sea
to such a sorry state?

Really, the Dead Sea
is the victim.

The Dead Sea is
the ultimate victim

of the water shortage
in our region.

To understand why,
we travel from the arid desert

to the Sea of Galilee
in lush, green Northern Israel.

This sea has played a vital role
in the history of the region

as well as the history
of the Dead Sea.

The Sea of Galilee

is actually the one and only
freshwater lake in Israel

producing water for years
for all the country.

Water from the Sea of Galilee
flows south

down an ancient river
rich in history.

The Jordan River

is the actual site
where John the Baptist

was baptizing Jesus.

And for thousands of years,
the Jordan River

provided a constant supply
of water to the Dead Sea.

That is, until a powerful force
altered nature's plan... us.

Back in the 1950s,

when the population of Israel
was growing,

the young country
was in desperate need of water.

When you have growing needs,

you have to supply more water,
not only for agriculture,

but also for domestic use.

So Israeli engineers
came up with a novel idea,

a way to expand
the Galilee's reach.

They built
the National Water Carrier,

a massive series of open canals,
pumps, and pipes

that diverted millions
of gallons of water

from the Sea of Galilee.

Water that once flowed down the
Jordan River into the Dead Sea

instead went to cities
on the Mediterranean coastline

and to the Negev

to make the desert bloom.

And by doing this, we could
settle people in the desert.

But in the process,

the Dead Sea's
main source of water

was cut off.

So was an important source
of water

for Jordanian and Palestinian
farmers and communities.

Over 96% of the water

flowing from the Jordan River
into the Dead Sea

has been diverted and no longer
reaches the Dead Sea.

This is a man-made disaster.

What happened to the Dead Sea

is a man-made disaster.

Those who doesn't know

about the Jordan River,

they think it's like
Mississippi or Amazon.

It's a stream,
it's not even a stream.

When people closed
the Jordan River,

they never thought,

is it safe to do it,
is it okay to do it?

But the National Water Carrier
is not the only cause

of the Dead Sea's decline.

Today, Israel and Jordan
are mining the sea

for a valuable mineral
called potash,

a form of potassium
and a key ingredient

used in fertilizers worldwide.

Potash is a major income

and a major employment
to Jordanian and Israelis.

For Jordan, this is a business

of half a billion dollars
per year.

And in Israel,
along with potash,

the Dead Sea Works produces

a number of products
like magnesium chloride,

table salts, and bromide.

It employs thousands of people,

and brings billions
into the economy.

The land of Israel doesn't have

natural resources.

We don't have copper,
we don't have steel,

we don't have coal, we don't...
We don't have almost nothing.

We have only one
natural resource: the Dead Sea.

In order to access
these resources,

both Israel and Jordan
have transformed

the southern part
of the Dead Sea

into a series
of artificial evaporation ponds.

This is not a sea.

It's, it's part of a factory.

The ponds are on average
only six feet deep,

which makes it easier
to dredge for minerals.

But it also creates a problem

that can best be seen
from space.

This satellite image
reveals the Dead Sea is divided

into two strikingly different

the northern basin,
where sinkholes abound,

and the southern basin, where
the potash industry thrives.

As minerals are dredged
from the sea,

the shallow ponds
need to be replenished.

So the potash industry
pumps water

from the northern basin

into the ponds.

These satellite images
taken between 1972 and 2011

reveal a stark reality.

As water is pumped
out of the northern basin,

it's shrinking.

But the potash industry
is not the only stakeholder.

So is another industry,
and one of Israel's biggest:


which brings in $5 billion

to the Israeli economy
every year.

This is Ein Bokek,

where tourists come to float
in the salty water.

In fact,
the sea's high salt content

makes the water so dense,

swimming is almost impossible,

but floating with a book
remarkably easy.

Since antiquity,
travelers have come here

to bathe in the sea's
mineral-rich water,

cherished for its power to heal.

Elisabeth Lietmann
has been coming here once a year

since she was 14.

For her, just breathing the air
helps treat her eczema,

a debilitating skin disorder.

It's very painful.

It keeps you from sleeping,

it keeps you from concentrating,
keeps you from work.

After about one week, ten days,

the symptoms are mostly gone,

and I'm beautiful again.

Researchers have discovered
the secret

behind Elisabeth's recovery...


The Dead Sea has 20 times
the potassium,

80 times the bromine,

and 32 times the magnesium
of regular seawater.

By normalizing cell growth
and reducing inflammation,

magnesium can help heal
a variety of skin diseases.

The Dead Sea has plenty

of magnesium.

We have it in the air,
in the rocks around us,

in the mountains,

and we have it also
in the waters.

So we are the golden city
of magnesium.

I've spent the 40 last years
of my life here,

and I am still amazed by
the results that we can obtain.

What makes the sea so rich
in healing minerals?

Geologist Shmuel Marco
has spent decades

exploring the Dead Sea region,

uncovering clues
to answer this question.

The sea's unique chemistry
is intricately linked

to where and how it formed.

The special thing
about this place

is that it's a rupture
in the crust of the Earth.

It's where the two pieces of
the Earth break from each other.

They move against each other.

The Dead Sea region was formed

when the crust of the Earth
broke into two pieces,

the African plate
and the Arabian plate.

As these plates moved
against each other,

they formed deep gaps
in the surface of the Earth.

About 20,000 years ago,

in the last glacial time,

when glaciers covered
large parts of the Earth,

the gap filled with water.

We call it Lake Lisan.

And it filled the whole valley,

from the Sea of Galilee
in the north

to the Arava Valley
in the south.

As time passed, Lake Lisan
grew smaller and smaller,

eventually turning
into the Sea of Galilee,

the Jordan River,
and the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea
is a terminal lake...

Water flows in,
but can't flow out,

because it has no outlet.

In this hot, arid desert,
it evaporated.

What was left?

Water saturated with salt.

This salty water interacted
with the surrounding rocks,

leaving behind a sea
rich in minerals.

This abundance of minerals
has made the southern basin

an economic powerhouse.

The same can't be said
for the northern basin.

The consequences of the sea's
decline can be felt everywhere.

This once lucrative date grove,
at kibbutz Ein Gedi,

was abandoned after a worker
suddenly fell into a sinkhole.

So far, 25 acres of
date and mango groves

have been destroyed,

and the number of visitors

to Ein Gedi's world-famous spa

is dwindling.

The beach is so far away,

you need to take a tram
to get to the water's edge,

which once came
right up to the spa.

All told, by the end of 2017,

Ein Gedi had incurred more
than $30 million in damages.

Who knows what will be
in the future?

It doesn't sound good.

Up the road from the spa

is an excavation site,
where Gideon Hadas

has spent decades preserving
Ein Gedi's rich history.

We have a history of
1,000 years of Jewish settlement

from the seventh century BCE

until to the
sixth century Common Era.

This is a region where there's
some amazing archaeology.

Whether you are going down
on the Israel side

or the Jordan side,

or going into the Palestine
National Authority

and going to Jericho,

the archaeology
is just fantastic.

The Dead Sea Basin includes

the most important sites
for all religions,

Christianity, and Muslim.

The ancient ruins
of Masada are here.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were
found in caves near the sea.

And as the sea has receded,

Gideon even discovered evidence

that ancient ships once
sailed here on the salty sea.

I was walking on the beach,

I look at this stone,

and I look at it
and I look at it.

I say,
"Wow, that's a Roman anchor."

These stone anchors date back
to the first century B.C.

The Dead Sea had trade routes

leading east to Arabia
and beyond.

So, it wasn't as disconnected
as you might imagine.

It's not
a sort of wilderness place

in the back of beyond.

It was really key
to ancient economics.

But today,

the economy on the Israeli side
of the northern basin

is imploding,

and no one knows how long
living here

will be sustainable.

Just 50 miles away, across
the border in Amman, Jordan,

the region's water shortage
has also reached

a dangerous threshold.

The country's population,
just 900,000 in the 1960s,

has skyrocketed
to close to ten million.

In just the last few years,

more than a million refugees
have poured in

from war-torn Syria.

The impact of the
Syrian refugees on Jordan

is huge,

and this additional demand
increases our water demand

by 22%.

In an effort to conserve,

the government limits
the number of days

running water is available.

Here, in Jordan,
we get water once a week,

so we use and store
as much as we can

in one day.

But there's a novel way

women are tackling
Jordan's water shortage.

They're learning a new trade:


When I told my family
about the training,

they laughed, because
they thought I was joking.

Many Muslim women
are not permitted

to be home alone with a male
who is not a family member.

This delays repairs,

and billions of gallons of water

are lost through leaky pipes.

If we women learn this job,

we will be better at it
than men,

because we are always
learning better than men.

Conservation is making
a difference,

but it's not enough.

As the need for water in Jordan
and in the Palestinian Authority

becomes more pressing,

it will continue to be an issue.

Water is one of the core issue
of the conflict

between Palestinian
and Israelis,

but also water is the issue

where the party keep
talking to each other,

despite the difficult time.

This is where

the Red Sea-Dead Sea
Conveyance Project

can make a real difference,

and perhaps even end

the region's
age-old water shortage.

The key to its success

is a technology Israel
has spent decades perfecting:


We solved our problems

by manufacturing water.

During the last decade,

Israel has constructed
five huge desalination plants

right on the shore
of the Mediterranean.

another essential part

of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project,

is the process
of transforming seawater

into fresh water
good enough to drink.

Israeli scientists and engineers

spent years
improving this process,

making it more affordable.

Seawater is carried by pumps

into massive pools,

where it passes
through a layer of sand.

Large objects like seaweed
and the occasional fish

are left behind.

Next, the water travels
through fine filters

that remove microscopic
particles like bacteria.

The water is then pushed
with tremendous force

through sophisticated membranes

that allow smaller
water molecules to get through,

but not larger molecules,
like salt.

Finally, fresh water
makes its way

into the National Carrier

and the salty leftovers...
The brine...

Is returned to the sea.

Desalination used to require
a lot of heat,

and was energy-intensive
and costly.

But with new technologies

and advances in membrane design,

the price of water
has been cut in half.

Israel has also developed
innovative technologies

in drip irrigation

and water recycling.

We have very good technology.

We can create water.

This gives Israel
a unique technological edge

and a powerful hand on the tap.

At times, it used this power

to limit the flow of water
to Palestinians,

which has heightened tensions
in this water-scarce region.

But can water be used
in a different way?

If we should be wise enough

to use this technology
in the right direction,

it will create an incentive
in our neighbors

to make peace with us.

That's my hope, that's my dream.

But even if desalination

provides enough water
for the region,

transporting water
to where it's needed most

presents a major challenge.

As part of the plan,

the leftover brine from the
new desalination plant in Jordan

will be pumped
through a pipeline

to the Dead Sea.

The pipeline will be built
near an aquifer,

an underground reservoir
of fresh water,

used by local farmers in Israel.

And this presents a problem.

The water is seawater, or brine,
which is very, very salty,

and if there is something
like earthquake,

then the aquifer will be ruined.

We have records of earthquakes
in this area,

and in particular,

earthquakes around and in
the Dead Sea basin.

Throughout history.

Even the Bible
describes earthquakes.

You have the story of Jericho,

where Joshua's armies
came through

and the trumpet sounded.

And the walls of Jericho
fell down.

There's been a huge debate

whether there were in fact
walls of Jericho

that did come tumbling down
at some point

due to an earthquake.

How often do major earthquakes
occur in this region?

The history is well-documented,

etched in the cliffs
that surround the Dead Sea.

During the last ice age,

which ended
around 12,000 years ago,

this whole area
was covered with water.

So we are at the bottom
of a lake,

and what we see on the cliffs

are the sediments,
the deposits, that accumulated

at the bottom of the lake.

What you can see here

is that the rock
is composed of two types

of materials.

There's a dark layer
and a white layer.

The darker material is made

from tiny rocks that settled
on the bottom of the lake.

It was deposited at the bottom
of the lake during floods.

Usually the floods here
are in the winter,

so this is a winter deposit.

Now, the white material
right here

is considered a summer deposit.

The summer deposit is made
of calcium carbonate,

a white compound
found in seashells.

And everything stays like this

until something shakes it.

And right about here,

we see the same material,
but here it's chaotic.

The signs of an earthquake.

So we have, like,
a tape recorder

that recorded earthquakes
during 50,000 years.

But the region's
earthquake record

is even longer...

A record provided
by the sea itself.

An international group
of scientists

drilled 1,500 feet
beneath the sea floor...

We drilled a hole

about this big.

Pulling up cores
of ancient sediment

that document environmental
changes in the region

over time,

from climate to earthquakes.

We reached layers that are
dated at 220,000 years,

so all together,

we have a 220,000 years'
record of earthquakes.

And within that record

is evidence
of several major earthquakes.

And we know that a couple
have occurred

in relatively modern times.

In 1837, the Galilee earthquake
shook the region.

In 1927, an earthquake
felt from Jerusalem to Jericho

resulted in hundreds of deaths.

We haven't had a serious,
serious earthquake, actually,

in the Dead Sea for a while,

and it's sort of due.

Geologist Shmuel Marco

is concerned whether
the Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline

would survive it.

In my opinion,
it's very problematic.

It's a large interference
with nature,

along an active geological fault
with many earthquakes.

Few days ago, there was

100 earthquake
registered in one day.

So, there is a risk.

There is a risk
of earthquake in this region.

So, we are always worried

about what I term
megalomanic programs,

"Let's do and change nature."

The nature
marine biologist Amatzia Genin

is striving to protect

the Red Sea.

1,400 miles long,

a sea so massive,
it's twice as large

as all the Great Lakes combined.

Its northeast end
is called the Gulf of Aqaba,

and it's home

to some of the most pristine
coral reefs on the planet,

rich in color and life.

We are here near the tip
of the Gulf of Aqaba,

which is part of the Red Sea.

It's a special ocean.

This is the only place,

the only piece of ocean
on Earth,

where bleaching
has not occurred.

Corals worldwide

are undergoing
a troubling transformation.

As the oceans warm
due to climate change,

corals are losing
their vibrant color

as they lose something vital
for their survival...


which provides corals
with essential nutrients.

They lose the algae,

they become white,

and if they don't
reacquire the algae,

they die.

And about half
of the corals in Australia,

in the Great Barrier Reef,

about half is gone now
because of massive bleaching.

It's a major risk
to the coral reef,

and it occurs
all over the globe,

except one place on Earth:
the Gulf of Aqaba.

The biological underpinning
that makes these reefs so robust

is still unknown.

But scientists think

these corals originated
farther south,

and migrated here already
accustomed to warmer waters.

So we predict that the corals
in the Gulf of Aqaba

will have perhaps 100 years more

than any other place on Earth

before bleaching
starts to hit these corals.

Another hundred years

before the temperature
of the sea

becomes intolerable.

But this resilient reef
could still be at risk

from the new desalination plant

that will be built
in Aqaba, Jordan.

There's a concern that when
water is pumped out of the sea

and into the desalination plant,

it would take
the tiniest forms of life

with it.

So, we brought
a simple plankton net

that filters the water.

We'll tow it from the boat.

Hopefully we'll get some larvae
inside the net.

In just a few minutes,

Amatzia and
researcher Irina Kolesnikov

pull the net from the water

and find
that it's teeming with life.

We have here some coral larvae.


developing snails,




and budding coral.

All could be put at risk
through desalination.

Where the plant will be located

on the Jordanian side
of the gulf

is the site of
a large concentration of larvae.

The coral reefs here

depend on larvae
arriving from Jordan.

And when the desalination plant
is built there,

the damage could be irreparable.

Lots and lots of larvae
will be pumped,

and then delivered
to the Dead Sea,

where they will... die.

We are worried
that that will have an effect

on the well-being, on
the renewal of the coral reef.

So a team of Israeli
and Jordanian scientists

sets out to find a way
to minimize the damage.

And they make a discovery.

The larvae
of the coral reef animals

are much less abundant,

through an order of magnitude
less abundant

below where you have
sufficient light

for photosynthesis.

We call that the photic layer.

Pumping below the photic layer,

about 400 feet
below the surface,

puts far less life forms
at risk.

Problem is

that it's very costly.

You need deep-sea divers.

Everything is so much more
complex than doing it

at shallower depth.

We say, "You guys are
going now to do a project,

"take the water
from the Red Sea,

"deliver the water
to the Dead Sea.

"This will cost," I don't know,

"hundreds of
millions of dollars.

"So invest $2 million more

to build a system
that will conserve nature here."

"Invest now and gain big time
in the future."

We are all fully aware

of the severe shortage of water
in Jordan.

They need water, no doubt.

So we, we really went
very willingly

to try and see how we can

mitigate the potential hazard
to the coral reef,

and indeed we found it.

From the Red Sea coral reefs

to a vulnerable pipeline,

to the impact Red Sea water
could have

on the unique chemistry
of the Dead Sea,

there are many challenges
and many unknowns

for the
Red Sea-Dead Sea Project.

Could there be
a better solution?

Why not simply undo the damage?

Restore the flow of water
to the Jordan River

and to the Dead Sea?

The problem is,
as the climate warms,

the Sea of Galilee
no longer has water to spare.

Since 2013,

the Sea of Galilee has receded
11 and a half feet,

losing more

than a hundred billion gallons
of water.

We are facing
terrible climate change.

Five years of drought

and less and less rain.

By the end of 2018,

the water level
of the Sea of Galilee

will be close to what we call
the black line...

The lowest level ever.

And it would take
an enormous amount of water

from the Sea of Galilee

to stabilize the Dead Sea.

More water than
Israel desalinates every year...

As much water as it uses
for its entire population.

And desalinating more water
presents problems, as well.

This is already an issue

that is being discussed
in Israel:

what is the impact of the desal?

This, of course, has its price,
an environmental price, too;

you increase
the volume of reject brine

to the Mediterranean.

There are studies now underway.

How much can you desal
before you see the effect?

So where does
the ten-billion-dollar

Red Sea-Dead Sea Project stand?

After years of
planning and scientific study,

money still needs to be raised.

But using water
as a way to lessen tensions

in this conflict-prone region

is an opportunity that may be
too good to pass up.

But will the Dead Sea
be even further damaged

by this geopolitical bargain?

The scientists are worried
about the impact of the project.

Some believe that instead of
trying to "save" the Dead Sea,

we should study it,

to gain a deeper understanding
of how nature responds

to the damage
we've already caused

in just the last half-century.

This is a natural laboratory.

We are witnessing
geological processes

that usually happen over periods

of thousands of years,
even longer.

And here, what we see,
we are observing these processes

on a very short time period,

possibly even
at an unprecedented rate,

which allows us
also to study them.

I think this is something
that is very unique.

In my opinion, nature
does not need to be saved

if we treat it with respect.

I would make
the whole Dead Sea basin

a geological park.

Because we see things here
that we don't see anywhere else.

Some people
can see it as damage.

I see it as an interesting
geological phenomenon

which is spectacular.

This is a particularly big one.

There is a risk.

If we do the project,
there is a risk.

If we don't do the project,
there is a risk.

I wish that this project
sees the light,

but we have to address thing

We have to address things

We have to address

the consequences
of climate change.

We have to address also
the consequences

of human intervention.

In Jordan,

the water shortage
is getting worse.

Jordan cannot wait.

We don't have time.

Our water resources
are drying up.

Our demand is increasing.

We need water.

And for the
Palestinian Authority,

there is also
a desperate need for water.

No one can deny
the importance of water.

As for the Dead Sea,

its level continues to decline,
with no end in sight.

In Yiddish, they used to say:

"Mann Tracht, un Gott Lacht."

That is to say

that "Man is working,
and God laughing."

I don't think that the Dead Sea

is really upset
that it descends or something,

but it's also, it's only for us.

I don't want to tell
my children,

"There used to be a sea here,
and it was really nice,

we could float in it, and..."

I want them to be in it
and to feel it and to see it.

It's a treasure.

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