1 of 3
Tara Todras-Whitehill, AP Photo
In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, journalists walk past a painting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at a water facility for Great Man-Made River project, just outside Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, July 12, 2011. France's foreign minister said Tuesday Paris has had contact with emissaries from Moammar Gadhafi who say the embattled Libyan strongman is "prepared to leave."

TRIPOLI, Libya — Adding muscle to their demands for a cease-fire, Libyan officials warned Tuesday that the rebel-controlled eastern half of the country could be cut off from water supplies without a truce to allow for maintenance work on a power plant pumping water up from the desert.

About 70 percent of the country relies on water brought up from underground aquifers deep in the southern desert, and the plant powering it in the east is falling apart, said the Libyan agricultural minister.

"Out of six turbines, we are using one turbine in the plant because of lack of maintenance," said Abdel-Maguid al-Gaud, who is also head of the system known as the Great Man-made Water Project, which supplies water to both halves of the country. "It's going to close itself."

Al-Gaud called for a cease-fire with the rebels and NATO forces conducting airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's military, and he urged the U.N. to lift a ban on importing spare parts so the power plant could be repaired and restored to full power. U.N. Security Council resolutions ban imports of many items into Libya.

Libya has several times demanded a cease-fire in the four month-old war, but the rebels and NATO have insisted on Gadhafi's departure first.

Currently the plant is pumping 400,000 cubic meters of water per day out of the desert, instead of a normal rate of twice that.

Khalifa Oteyfi, director of the western half of the water project, warned that with peak electricity and water usage approaching with Libya's blazing summer, the plant might soon fail.

"It is a challenge for our people to maintain the system," he said. "In three months, spare parts will be a problem, maintenance will be a problem."

The Sarir Power plant, hundreds of miles south of Benghazi, pumps water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer and sends it north through pipelines to the rebel-controlled town of Ajdabiya where it goes east to the rebel capital of Benghazi and west to the government stronghold of Sirte.

Despite the fighting between the rebels and the government, the officials insist the water has been allowed to flow freely to both sides.

"As an organization, we work as professionals," said Abdel Hakim Shwaydi, a contractor for the project. "These are all people, whether or not they are on the other side."

Back in April, government officials expressed concern about the safety of the Great Man Made River project, warning that NATO airstrikes against government forces could rupture water and oil pipes along the coast.

On Tuesday, the officials did not mention if any pipes had been damaged in the conflict.