The Dead Sea is dying, goes the conventional wisdom: The water level of the fabled salty lake is dropping nearly 4 feet a year. Less well known: Part of the lake is actually overflowing, threatening one of Israel's key tourism destinations. The Dead Sea is divided into a northern and southern basin, which are located at different elevations, largely disconnected and miles apart. That means the rising waters of the southern basin cannot simply pour into the shrinking basin in the north. And without intervention, the water will flood the lobbies of the hotels on the Dead Sea's southern end "in five to 10 years, no question," a researcher says.
Heavy industrialization is what's causing the waters on the southern basin to rise. Chemical companies have built evaporation pools there to extract lucrative minerals from the lake. Millions of tons of salt are left annually on the floor of these pools, causing the water to rise 8 inches a year. Researchers and government officials are endorsing a $2 billion plan to chip off the salt buildup on the part of the lake that's rising and send it by conveyor belt to the northern end that's dropping—and they're demanding that Dead Sea Works, the multibillion-dollar Israeli industry that mines the mineral-rich waters, foot the bill. (Read more Dead Sea stories.)