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Lake Kinneret's water level is expected to reach a critical low in December. At that time, removing water from the lake - one of Israel's major water sources - will no longer be possible because the pumps will be above the water level, an official said yesterday.

Water Authority Uri Shani yesterday told a Knesset committee dealing with the water crisis that the lake, also known as the Sea of Galilee, will dip beneath the so-called "black line" level of -214.4 meters below sea level in the winter.

Over the years, the lake's red line, demarking a water shortage, has undergone many changes, but the black line has remained steady. The water level in the lake is expected to sink beneath the red line in July, at which point ecological damage such as salinization and duckweed infestation is feared. At the same time, Israel's mountain aquifer that feeds other important water sources, like the Yarkon and Taninim River, is expected to reach an all-time low.

Shani said the amount of usable water in Israel has decreased over the past 16 years by 164 cubic meters, from 1.34 cubic meters to 1.175 cubic meters. Global warming was only part of the cause of the water shortage, Shani said. Large amounts of water have been rendered unusable due to pollution from car factories. Another cause has been accumulation of dust particles in the atmosphere originating in Saharan sandstorms that limited precipitation. "We've had four years of drought, a pretty rare combination," Shani said. This is the second time such a succession has occurred since records began during the 1930s, he claimed. The last great big water crisis ended in 2001 with two successive rainy winters.

Garden irrigation is the number one foe of water conservation, according to the Authority. It plans to set a basic water quota per capita and charge additional consumption at much higher rates.

Also, water consumption in 2007 grew from 106 cubic meters per person to 108 cubic meters. "Our estimates are that gardening, house gardening and local authorities' irrigation of gardens at Kibbutzim and other rural settlements account for the hike," an official said.

MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) lashed out at the government, accusing it of inaction on the water crisis issue. "There is no conservation plan, no attempt to instill water discipline in the public," he said. "There are no incentives to preserve water, and water source rehabilitation is considered science fiction. The result is that the Kinneret and the aquifers are vanishing."