The Dead Sea is a place of mystery: the lowest surface on Earth, the purported site of Sodom and Gomorrah, a supposed font of curative waters and, despite its name, a treasure trove of unusual microbial life. Yet its future is anything but a mystery. After centuries of stability—owed to a delicate equilibrium between freshwater supply from the Jordan River and evaporation under the relentless Middle Eastern sun—the lake is now disappearing.

Jordanians to the east, Israelis to the west, and Syrians and Lebanese to the north are pumping so much freshwater from the river catchment that almost none reaches the sea. Israel and Jordan are also siphoning water from the lake to extract valuable minerals, hastening the decline. Thousands of sinkholes have formed in the receding sea’s wake, curtailing tourism and development along the border because no one can predict where the next gaping hole will suddenly open, potentially swallowing buildings, roads or people.

Concerned over losing a valuable natural and cultural resource, officials from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have proposed an enormous conveyor system that would steadily refill the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea to the south. Scientists are testing how the mixing waters might affect the lake’s chemistry and biology or if the influx could turn the lake red. Politicians are testing whether either nation has the will to fund the $10-billion lifeline, as environmentalists oppose the pharaonical project. And governments that preside over other saline bodies, including the Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Great Salt Lake in Utah, are watching for lessons that could apply to their own future development. Take a tour here of the dying sea and efforts to bring it back to life.