"This is the worst crisis since records started being kept 80 years ago," Water Authority head Uri Shani declared Tuesday morning at a special press conference in Tel Aviv. "Like most countries, Israel is dependent on rainfall and the amount of rainfall is decreasing. There is a drop of 100 million cubic meters per year."

Shani described a situation of increasing damage to Israel's main natural water sources. The Coastal Aquifer "has dropped below its black line," which means that it will suffer rapid damage, possibly irreversible damage, Shani said.

The water level in the Mountain Aquifer was currently a meter above its Lower Red Line, but was also expected to reach its bottom limit - the Black Line - by this year. He added that water levels in the aquifers had never been this low.

Shani predicted that Lake Kinneret would reach its Black Line by December 2008. The Kinneret dropped below its bottom limit on Monday, 213 meters below sea level. The lake's Black Line is 214.87 meters below sea level.

Shani said that the forecast predicts next year will be even worse and the year after that might be just as bad unless more rain falls than expected.

The Water Authority has taken a number of measures in various directions to ameliorate the crisis. Their main effort to meet Israel's current water needs has been to "borrow on the future," Shani said.

To that end, the Water Authority has started pumping water from tributaries that feed into the Kinneret, water which was supposed to reach the Kinneret by 2010. In addition to the main effort, Shani said polluted wells would be purified and desalination plants would increase their output.

The authority has also undertaken a series of measures that will go into effect this week, measures that would limit the use of water for gardening and raise the price of water for that purpose.

The price will nearly double from NIS 3.90 per cubic meter to NIS 7.40 and maybe higher.

From that price hike and the additional NIS 1 billion the government budgeted earlier this month, the authority will invest NIS 12 billion in infrastructure, desalination and sewage treatment for agriculture in the next five years.

The press conference also marked the launch of a public relations campaign to be carried out by media, television and billboards to encourage the public to conserve water.