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April 12 Meeting


Water Scarcity in the Middle East: Regional Cooperation as a Mechanism Toward Peace

John F. Turner, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations
Washington, DC
May 5, 2004

Chairman Hyde and other Members of the International Relations Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss water scarcity, particularly in the Middle East. I would like to briefly address water availability in general, transboundary water disputes, and our diplomatic engagement.

The use of desalinated water for irrigation in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine seems the only solution to meeting the needs for expanding agricultural production, especially in the dry areas that adjoin the Jordan Valley south of the Dead Sea. Water for irrigation must be economically priced in order to be used for crop production in the very efficient drip irrigation design that has been developed in Israel. It is estimated that water produced by the Ezekiel's Water Project can be priced at thirty six cents (.36 US $) per cubic meter, thus enabling a tremendous expansion of crop acreage in the region. This price is justified by the enormous scale of the project, the low operation expense of MVC desalination, and the abundant power supply of the connected hydroelectric project.

The super pure water produced by MVC desalination will eliminate the problem of buildup of salt in the irrigated soil, and will actually reduce the salt content of the irrigated soils by the process of plant use of salts in the soil.

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The Jordan valley also contains several critical international jurisdictions whose boundaries have a powerful bearing on land cover. The borders of the West Bank, whose access to water limits its irrigation capability, can be easily resolved from space during the summer months due to contrasts with the irrigated lands in Israel proper.

Israel is a semi-arid country with a low average annual precipitation of 500 mm, concentrated in 4-5 months of the year. It has no major rivers, lakes or underground water sources. Yet both irrigated agriculture and aquaculture are highly developed in spite of the climatic constraints and chronic lack of water. To be successful in both fields, new methods were developed to conserve water and use it more efficiently. Results are manifested by the development of Drip irrigation and integrated aquaculture and irrigation systems.