Israel is 350 million cubic meters of water short of supplying expected demand over the coming year, without seriously endangering the quality of its water reserves, it was revealed Tuesday.
According to data presented at an emergency meeting, no precipitation was measured in the central coastal or mountain areas over the months of April or May for the first time since records began, precipitating the current crisis.
The meeting, called by the Water Authority and the Israel Water Association, discussed a number of tough water-saving measures proposed by an ad hoc committee that included a complete ban on watering new municipal parks and gardens.
"In the next two or three years we'll have to learn to swim in empty swimming pools," said Professor Uri Shani, head of the Water Authority. "But we don't want to spread panic. The situation is bad, but we're in control and we'll do everything we can to make sure that as little damage is done."
Water experts at the meeting predicted that over the next two years water levels would drop beneath red lines in both the mountain and coastal aquifers, which provide Israel with most of its water, causing an increase in their salinity.
Minister of National Infrastructures Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called for the capacity of water desalinization plants to be increased by 200 million cubic meters. He also called for a number of sewage treatment plants to be constructed.
Israel's other major water reserve, the fresh water Lake Kinneret also known as the Sea of Galilee, is expected to reach its lowest level ever next year. Its water level began to drop unusually early this year ¬ in March ¬ because of the drought.
According to Water Authority plans, the lake's level will ebb by two meters before next winter, after calculating the amount of water that will be pumped out. Environmentalists have protested the authority's decision, claiming a sudden drop in the lake's level will damage wildlife.
Water Authority official Tami Shor said that a big cut in water designated for agriculture has been imposed alongside reducing water used to irrigate municipal parks and gardens.
For the first time, Israeli farmers last year used more water originating from sewage treatment than from fresh water reserves ¬ some 615 million cubic meters of cleaned sewage to 565 million cubic meters of fresh water.
"We have to realize that what we've done is merely skimmed the surface," Professor Haim Gvirtzman of the Hebrew University said at the conference. "It has not solved the serious crisis we are in."
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