Mekorot warns water levels stressed to maximum

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According to the figures, demand for fresh water in small and medium-sized towns has rocketed by an average of more than 32 percent in the past four years and by more than 14 percent in big cities.

Officials stressed that the past three years of plentiful rainfall should "not close our eyes" to the fact that water resources are being depleted and storage facilities are insufficient to meet expected future demand.

According to Mekorot, the country's main water storage facilities, Lake Kinneret and the underground reservoirs Yarkon, Taninim and the coastal aquifer, can only hold a certain amount of water even if they are topped each year as a result of winter rains.

This represents the maximum potential of fresh water that can be made available for drinking, washing and irrigating parks and gardens on the domestic front, as well as for industry and agriculture.

For the past few years, however, Mekorot has been pumping 30 to 40 million cubic meters of water a year from these sources over and above the maximum potential.

This means that even if plentiful rainfall fully replenishes the aquifers, the overall storage capacity is still less than current demand and will steadily decrease over the years as consumption rises.

Mekorot officials noted that consumption in some smaller towns over the past four years had risen dramatically nearly 63 percent in Ma'alot, nearly 73 percent in Atlit and 62.5 percent in Beit Shemesh.

In Jerusalem, demand jumped by nearly 21 percent and in Beersheba by 24 percent since 1991.