July 13 (UPI) -- Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced a deal Thursday that will provide 32 million cubic meters of drinking water to the West Bank and Gaza annually.
The deal, brokered by U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt, will transfer salty water from the Red Sea to a massive desalination plant where it will be made drinkable. It will then be sold under a trilateral agreement to Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. The salty runoff will be carried via a pipeline to help replenish the Dead Sea, which is shrinking away at a rate of about 3 feet per year.
The latter half of the project has been hailed by environmentalists as a significant step in saving the Dead Sea, the world's lowest-lying body of water. As the water runs downhill toward the Dead Sea it will generate hydroelectric power that will fuel the desalination plant.
Though the Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline will help stem the water loss, it is not enough to offset the present rate of the Dead Sea's shrinkage.
The project is expected to cost in the range of $10 billion, with the United States and other nations contributing toward the cost. It will be fully operational in four to five years, officials said.
"As we all know, water is a precious commodity in the Middle East," Greenblatt said. "The U.S. welcomes the agreement reached by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel, which will allow for the sale of 32 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, we hope that the deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well."