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The Israel Water Authority is struggling to cope with a severe water shortage that has been made more acute by a continual deterioration in the water quality of the coastal aquifer, one of the two main underground water sources in the country, according to a new report.

The report, prepared by the hydrology department of the authority, concludes that while parts of the aquifer have deposits of good quality water, usually in higher depths, in many of the segments closer to the surface, the water quality is poor.

The report was widely distributed earlier this week and discusses the condition of the country's water sources based on data collected over the past 18 months.

The coastal aquifer, a subterranean 'water tank' stretching from the area of Hadera down to the Gaza Strip, provides between a quarter and a third of the potable drinking water in Israel and is discussed extensively in the report.

The Water Authority divides the aquifer into area cells, and according to the available data, the cells in the south, about half of the total, are running low on stored water. However, the report says that the quality of the water they contain is good overall.

The less potable water the aquifer cells contain, the more susceptible they become to penetration of salt water.

On the other hand, in the north, where most of the water reserves can be found, there are two central problems facing the aquifer. The first is the high concentrations of contaminants that spill into the aquifer cells through sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel dumps and garbage. The second is that there are not enough wells from which water can be drawn.

In some areas along the coastal aquifer the problem of salt water penetration is severe and there are indications that it may have reached a depth of two kilometers. In the area of Emek Hefer, near Hadera, for example, sea water advances into the potable water resources by a rate of 50 meters per year. The situation is even more acute in the Dan region, where salt water has done the most damage.

The authors of the report recommended ways to stabilize the aquifer so that it could remain a reliable source of potable water in the future. Among the proposals is to draw less water and handle sources of pollution more efficiently.