Israel Suffers Worst Drought in Decade

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel is suffering its worst drought in a decade and will have to stop pumping from one of its main sources of drinking water, the Sea of Galilee, by the end of the summer, an official said Wednesday.

Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor said Israel must start pumping more ground water from aquifers that are already depleted.

"The situation is very, very bad," Schor said. "As we pump more from the aquifers, the quality of the water will go down."

Israel's water problem stems from population growth and rising prosperity that has seen an increase in lawns and gardens, Schor said. In addition, this winter was the fourth in a row in which Israel had low rainfall, with only about 50-60 percent of the average in most areas, he said.

Israel's rainy season ends this month and will not begin again until October.

Water is a contentious issue in the dry region, and the subject of one of the disputes Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators.

Despite the shortage, Israel will probably not reduce the amount of water supplied to Jordan according to a peace treaty between the countries, Schor said. Jordan's drought is much worse than Israel's, he said.

Israel has in recent weeks reduced the drinking water supplied to farmers by more than 50 percent, increasing their need for recycled water, Schor said. This weekend water officials will discuss raising the cost of drinking water in an attempt to cut household use, he said.

Israel has two desalination plants that supply about one-third of water needed by municipalities and households, Schor said. Three other plants, scheduled to be completed by 2013, will double that amount. The next one is due to be operational next year.

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