Lake Kinneret rose 87 centimeters in December and January, to 213.4 meters below sea level. The figures for the water level in the most visible of Israel's three major reservoirs were released yesterday for the first time in two months, after the strike by Water Authority employees ended. The storms predicted for Wednesday and Thursday are expected to further boost lake levels.

January's 57-centimeter increase was the highest for that month for the past five years, but the water level is still below the lower red line of 213 meters below sea level. It is about 700 million cubic meters short of the maximum volume.

February usually brings the greatest increase for the lake, and the rain in the forecast this week could get the month off to a good start.

"For two whole months I maintained secrecy, I didn't tell anyone the level of Lake Kinneret, not even my wife," Shuli Chen, the Water Authority's "national measurer," said yesterday. The figures that Chen kept under his hat for 60 days, with their actual and symbolic importance, became one of the weapons of the strike.

"Despite the strike and despite the fact that we weren't paid because of it, I went to the Kinneret every morning and measured the water level," Chen said. "I have to show responsibility, that number is very important and I couldn't shirk my duties."

Chen has been a Water Authority employee for 40 years, the last 10 of them as Kinneret District Manager, which includes the entire drainage basin of the lake from Mt. Hermon south. One of his duties is the daily measurement of the lake's level, which he does each morning at the start of his workday. Yesterday, as usual, he rose early, went to the measurement station at the shore in Tiberias and then to the workers' meeting in Tel Aviv, where the decision to end the strike was made.

"I'm glad I can finally publish the numbers, I know the level of the Kinneret affects the mood of many people. Unfortunately, during the strike I could not make the figures public, and it was a period when the Kinneret kept rising. In my heart I was happy to see the level rise, but I didn't have a good feeling because I couldn't share the information with anyone and I couldn't publish it ... I knew that as soon as I did, I would be be making a lot of people in the country happy," Chen said, almost apologetically.

"Many people put a lot of pressure on me, requesting that I make the figures public, but I didn't. No one got it out of me. Maybe my wife understand that the Kinneret was rising nicely, from my expression. She already knows that I'm happy when the Kinneret rises," Chen said.

Chen, too, is careful to stress that despite the improvement, Lake Kinneret is still in bad shape. "We can celebrate today, but in moderation, because we're still 40 centimeters below the [bottom] red line and about 4.5 meters below the [upper] red line. I hope the rain will return and the streams will continue to flow, the ground is saturated and the water is collecting in the streams. These are good days for the Kinneret - just this weekend, with no rain, it rose by four more centimeters. I pray for more rain and then I'll also measure the flow in the streams, which I didn't do during the strike."