EIN GEV, Israel – It was not long before the swimmers in Ein Gev laid their towels on the grass on the edge of the Galilee Sea.
Today, they give their parasols 100 meters below, on a sandy beach that appeared to reduce the iconic body of water.
"Every time we come, we feel the pain in our hearts," said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting a famous lake with his family for 15 years.
"Lake is a symbol of Israel, whenever it's dry, it's the first thing we talk about."
In front of Lichi, wooden ships with Christian pilgrims on board are moving in calm waters, among groups from around the world they visit.
The Galilean Sea, where Christians believe that the prophet Jesus (peace on it) has walked by water, has been decreasing for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising alarm.
Plans are designed to restore the freshwater body known to Israelis as Kinneret and some like Tiberias Lake.
For Israel, this lake is vital because it has long been the main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz daily on its back gives water.
His shrinking was a source of deep concern. When two islands recently appeared due to a drop in water levels, they received a lot of attention in the Israeli media.
From 2013, "we're under the low red line," for which "salinity is increasing, fish have trouble surviving and vegetation is affected," said Amir Givati, a hydrologist of the Israeli water administration.
The level is only about 20 cm (less than eight inches) above the record low in 2001 – except that 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) were being used for irrigation at that time.
"We have pumped only 20 million cubic meters this year, but the lake is in a very poor condition," Givati said.
Added to that is 50 million cubic meters, which Israel is sending to neighboring Jordan under peace agreements.
Israel created a national aqueduct in the 1950s after the birth of the country when it tried to "build a nation," as its pioneers give it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the earth.
"Tiberias Lake was used as a national reservoir," said Julie Trottier, a professor specializing in Israeli-Palestinian water.
The artificial channel supplied water westward to the Mediterranean coast and to the Negev desert in the south, she said.
This system has not been introduced for about ten years. Now most households in the west of the country use desalinated Mediterranean water, while the farms are irrigated with water that is properly treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalted water, said Orit Skutelsky of Israel's Nature Conservation Society.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake's entry.
Dozens of pumps cut nearly 100 million cubic feet (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources whose flow has decreased and is no longer sufficient to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches of Ein Gev, at the foot of the rocky hills, huge meshes cover banana trees, the leaves of which intertwine with the surrounding dry vegetation.
"We call it a valley of bananas," said Meir Barkan, Director of Tourism for the Ein Gev Resort.
"When they started planting trees, there was no problem with water, and banana is the only fruit you harvest all year round."
But without unpolluted or recycled water, farms are the main player in a "competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism," said Eran Feitelson, a geography professor at the occupied Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
For agent Lior Avichai at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to "kill agriculture and the local economy" but to use less water.
The authorities have suggested that this region should enter the desalinated water through the water supply.
Skutelsky said that for better management of the ecosystem, water should be delivered upstream and then naturally flow.
But "that would be very expensive," said Skutelsky. – AFP