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Despite considerable rainfall this winter, Israel's water resources remain perilously depleted, Mekorot Water Company officials said yesterday. Though most areas of the country saw average rainfall this year - and some saw above average precipitation - water levels in the country's major reservoirs have remained largely unaffected.

"In my opinion, the main reason for the fact that this was a poor hydrological year was the type of precipitation we received," said Yossi Guttman, a senior Mekorot hydrologist. "We had stints of heavy rain, but afterward, periods in which none fell at all."

That situation led to rainwater seeping out of reservoirs, and in many areas to flooding and subsequent evaporation.

Guttman singles out Jerusalem as a representative example of this phenomenon. There, more than 200 millimeters of rain fell over two days, but water levels at local reservoirs remained largely stable.

The situation is partially mitigated, however, by water purification methods. A recently opened treatment plant in Hadera supplies 100 million cubic meters of water to local residents annually, "allowing us to reduce the amount of groundwater we have to extract from the coastal region," Guttman said.

Another means for Mekorot to handle Israel's water crisis is "drought drilling." Over the next two years the company intends to drill at a number of new sites, allowing an additional 130 million cubic meters of water to be supplied every year.

Environmental groups have expressed concern that accelerated drilling could cause damage to sensitive ecosystems, particularly in nature reserves and national parks.