THE DEAD SEA - The Dead Sea is a natural wonder, biblical landmark and mineral treasure-- but the unique body of water is getting smaller.
Some even fear the loss of water could doom the Dead Sea, which sits on the Great Rift Valley between Israel and Jordan.
It's fed by fresh water from the Jordan River and mineral springs. The Dead Sea is the world's saltiest lake-- so salty, no fish can survive in it. It's also the lowest place on earth, but experts warn it's getting even lower.
Each year, the level of the Dead Sea drops by more than four feet and in the last 25 years, some parts of the shoreline have retreated nearly a mile.
Experts say the sea is evaporating now faster than ever. Geologist Eli Raz blames man, not nature.
"The drop in the level of the Dead Sea is due to the human interference in the balance of the Dead Sea," he said.
Raz added that for decades both Israel and Jordan have diverted the waters of the Jordan River, allowing only a trickle into the sea. He also blames industries that harvest the rich minerals.
But Noam Goldstein says companies like the Dead Sea Works actually help the area.
"We are taking water from the northern part to the southern part. The southern part --our evaporation ponds -- without it, it was dry," Goldstein explained.
It's been years since the Dead Sea flowed naturally to the far south. Now, a canal routes water from the natural upper sea to evaporation ponds where sun and hot, dry weather produce the raw materials that turn into money.
Today, Israel's Dead Sea Works and its Jordanian counterpart mine minerals like potash, magnesium and bromine. In fact they produce 10 percent of the world's potash-- a main product in fertilizer.
Dead Sea Tourism
Tourism also thrives on the waters there, which are 10 times saltier than ocean water.
At the Ein Gedi Spa some 250,000 tourists visit each year - more than half from abroad.
Getting into the Dead Sea gives the feeling of a bobbing cork, since you can't sink in the water.
The water and atmosphere also have medicinal properties and doctors even prescribe a visit to the Dead Sea as a treatment for skin and breathing ailments.
Drugs couldn't help Melody Dagan's psoriasis, but a visit for treatment at the Dead Sea was so successful she decided to stay.
"It's one year I'm here. I can feel the difference. Even though when I'm in the sun I feel it more. But even just working here with the special air [it's] helping a lot," said Dagan, who works at the Ein Gedi Spa.
With so many unique benefits it's easy to understand the alarm over the drop in the level of the Dead Sea. Two major projects are being considered to save it.
Saving Healing Waters
One option: the Med-Dead canal would pump water 45 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, creating electricity for Israel.
Another project called the Red-Dead canal would actually send water uphill some 140 miles from the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan before it runs down to the Dead Sea.
The World Bank is spending more than $1 billion to study the feasibility, but some say political motives are involved. The Red-Dead canal is supposed to be a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian peace project.
"To market the project they cover it with lot of phrases but actually there is nothing except producing water for Jordan, which is very important but to my opinion we can produce water for Jordan in other way much cheaper economically and environmentally," Raz said.
Experts warn quick fixes would be costly and cause irreparable damage to the Dead sea and surrounding area.
They say introducing seawater there could cause gypsum crystals to form and bacteria to grow. Some believe a more natural option is available -- even though it would require importing and desalinating water.
"Let the Jordan flow down to the Dead Sea as it used to be before the settlements and the agricultural areas took the water," said Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor Avner Adin.
Adin said interdependence between countries when it comes to water should be a last resort.
"Water is life and we should be independent in this," Adin said.
Dead Sea's Biblical Roots
But while modern man seeks to save the Dead Sea, the Bible has a lot to say about both its past and future.
It's an area rich in biblical history. By the streams of Ein Gedi, a young David and his men hid from an angry King Saul.
Named for the ibex or wild mountain goats still climbing its cliffs, the Ein Gedi springs would have provided valuable water for agriculture and living in the desert area.
Further south, the barren heights of Sodom loom where the Bible says Lot and his family fled a hail of brimstone. Across the sea are the mountains of Moab and Edom in present day Jordan.
Ezekiel also prophesied that one day the waters of the Great Salt Sea would be healed and teaming with fish. The prophet Zechariah said that the day would come when Israel's messiah will return to the Mount of Olives.
It's a day Christians worldwide anticipate.
*Originally published October 30, 2009