Rationing of water for household use could be introduced by spring if this winter is a dry one, Water Authority head Prof. Uri Shani warned the cabinet on Sunday. Recent forecasts for the region are not optimistic, he added. With even a mild drought, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night that water for gardening will be cut off and the country's gardens will turn brown. The forecasts are not good for this coming winter, nor for the next two years, he said. Israel has already experienced four straight years of below-average rainfall, bringing the natural water sources dangerously close to becoming contaminated. Farmers will be the first to feel the cuts - severe reductions in water for agriculture are a serious possibility, the cabinet was told. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer described the potential cuts as a "death blow" to agriculture and warned his fellow ministers that the government should be prepared to compensate the farmers. "Another painful process we should reconcile ourselves to is a certain cut in water for agriculture in 2009. We are talking about, without a shadow of a doubt, a death blow for the industry, and we need to take responsibility and commit here and now to support the farmers as a result of the lack of fresh water for agriculture in 2009. "No one should delude themselves; we will have to cut between 100 million and 150 million cubic meters and we will have to compensate the farmers who will lose their income," Ben-Eliezer warned. Schor, however, noted that the cut to agriculture would depend on how bad the drought was this year. The cuts could range anywhere from 40 million to 100 million cu.m., or as much as a quarter of the fresh water agriculture receives now, he said. If there is even a mild drought, we will have to cut 200 million cu.m. from household and industrial use as well, he added. Even if there is average rainfall, we will still be 550 million cu.m. in deficit, according to Schor. Total fresh water demand stands at about 1.5 billion cu.m. per year, while supply is below that even in a good year. The situation has become so dire that the cabinet voted unanimously to do away with the tender process for a desalination plant in Ashdod to be built by the Mekorot national water company, to speed up its construction. Earlier this year, the government approved a massive increase in desalination, to 750 million cu.m. per year, as quickly as possible. Six hundred million should be available by 2013. In comparison, current desalination capability stands at about 150 million cu.m. per year. The government has also approved an investment of more than NIS 1b. in waste treatment plants. The public has responded with alacrity to the crisis, Ben-Eliezer told the cabinet. The public's conscientious efforts have conserved 70 million cu.m. so far, or the equivalent of an entire desalination plant. The Water Authority launched a massive billboard and television campaign earlier this year warning the public against wasting water.