EIN GEV, Israel: It was not long before the bathers of Ein Gev put their towels on the grass on the edge of the sea of Galilee.
Nowadays, they put their sun loungers about 100 meters (farther away), on a sandy beach that appeared due to the reduction of the iconic body of water.
"Every time we arrive we feel a pain in our hearts," said Yael Lichi, 47, who visited the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
"The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about."
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims on board sail by the calm waters, between groups of the whole world that they visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe that Jesus walked on the water, has been declining for years, mainly due to excessive use, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
The plans are being designed to resuscitate the body of freshwater known to Israelis as Kinneret and some like Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, being the main source of water in the country. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz offers its daily water level on its back page.
Its decline has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to the drop in water levels, they received great attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013, "we are under the red line" beyond that "salinity rises, fish have a hard time surviving and vegetation is affected," said Amir Givati, a hydrologist of the Israeli water authority.
The level is only about 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record recorded in 2001, except that 400 million cubic meters (14,100 million cubic feet) were pumped per irrigation at that time.
"This year, we only pump 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a bad state," said Givati.
Added to this is the 50 million cubic meters that Israel sends to Jordan's neighbor as part of the peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below the sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River between them.
Both the Dead Sea and Jordan have suffered excessive use.
Galilee covers about 160 square kilometers (approximately 60 square miles), approximately the size of Liechtenstein.
In the ministry of water, the fault of its condition is located in the five years of drought.
But "climatic factors alone are insufficient to explain the contraction of the Sea of Galilee," wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel.
Irrigation agriculture, pumping and entertainment are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel built a national aqueduct in the fifties in the years after the birth of the country, when it was looking for a national construction and sought to "flourish the desert", as pioneers put it.
The aqueduct transported water from the lake to the rest of the country.
"Lake Tiberias has been used as a national deposit," said Julie Trottier, a professor specializing in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
An artificial canal made water to the west towards the Mediterranean coast and to the Negev desert in the south, he said.
This system has not been in force for about 10 years. Now, most homes in the western part of the country use desalinated Mediterranean water, while farms are irrigated with treated and recycled water.
But east of Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on the rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake's income.
Dozens of pumps eliminate about 100 million cubic meters (3.5 million cubic feet) every year from those sources, whose flow has declined and is no longer sufficient to supply the lake, according to the researcher.
Several miles from the beaches of Ein Gev, at the foot of the rocky hills, the immense networks include bananas whose leaves go out with the surrounding dry vegetation.
"We call it the banana valley," said Meir Barkan, director of tourism at the Ein Gev resort.
"When they started planting trees, there was no problem with water and banana is the only fruit that was harvested throughout the year."
But without desalinated or recycled water, farms are a major player in "competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism," said Eran Feitelson, a professor of geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
For Lior Avichai, an agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to "kill agriculture and the local economy," but to use less water.
Authorities propose to equip the region of desalinated water through the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that in order to better manage the ecosystem, water should be sent beyond, and then allowed to flow naturally.
But "that would be very expensive," said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In its open palm, it shows a fish of San Pedro that only removed from its networks, hardly greater than its hand.
"The solution can only come from government – or from heaven," he said.
He points to the half abandoned pier that the pilgrims' boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to land in the bank.
"I am very embarrassed when tourists see the lake in this state," said Lev.