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‘Secret river’ by the Dead Sea ‘discovered’ – the strange tale of a toxic effluent channel revealed

Following TV visit to Dead Sea gorge carved out by briny waste from Dead Sea factories, call is issued for works there to stop, site to be opened to public.

The channel can be seen on this Google Earth image entering the northern section of the Dead Sea, at the top of the picture, where there is a promontory bordered by salt.

There has been much ado on Israeli social media since the beginning of last week following two episodes of a bizarre television report claiming the discovery of an “unknown” canyon and “river” that is actually the toxic effluent channel of two mineral extraction companies known well to geologists and the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

On Monday and Tuesday, Kan news broadcast dramatic footage of waters swirling along the bed of a 20-meter (65-foot) -deep gorge in the desert close to the Dead Sea — the lowest point on earth — and the Israeli-Jordanian border.

Lior Enmar, described as a geologist and guide, led Kan’s reporter and others along a path strewn with deep pits and unexploded mines to the water’s edge. In and around the area, viewers were treated to extraordinary images of salt formations in different shapes and colors.

When everyone reached the gorge, they whooped in amazement. The reporter enthused that it was Israel’s answer to the Grand Canyon, while Enmar said it was one of the most beautiful “parks” in the world.

The truth — clearly explained in the report but somewhat eclipsed by its eureka framing — is that the river actually carries salty sludge from the evaporation pools of the Dead Sea Works run by Israel Chemicals Ltd and the Ofer family and from the Jordanian Arab Potash Company, just next door.

Both factories pump water out of the northern section of the Dead Sea into evaporation pools in the southern section that are visible from the Ein Bokek hotels along the Israeli section of the Dead Sea shore.

The water evaporates, leaving potash, a potassium-rich salt, and halite for the factories’ use, while the remaining effluent — which is very dense and salty — is channeled back to the lake.

Half a century ago, the Dead Sea was one body of water and it was easy to direct the effluent back from the evaporation pools.

But since 1976, the lake’s surface area has almost halved and its elevation has dropped more than 40 meters (130 feet) — from 390 meters (1,280 feet) below sea level to minus 434 meters (minus 1,425 feet) today.