In Italy, there is currently a dispute over whether water should be diverted from Lake Garda to raise the level of the river Po. As absurd as the idea sounds, it clearly shows how dramatic the drought is that the country is currently suffering from. The north is particularly affected. He is currently experiencing the worst drought in 70 years, according to Italian media reports.
This is particularly evident in the Po, the country’s largest and most important river. Historical lows have been measured there for weeks. At Piacenza, for example, an average of 306 cubic meters of water per second is currently flowing through the river – around 140 cubic meters less than the previous low in 2005. Normal would be more than twice as much water.
Hence the idea of diverting water from Lake Garda, which is even better filled at 60 percent of its normal level. However, the Association of Municipalities of Lake Garda that manage the water are opposed to the proposal. They argue that the water demanded is not enough to help the Po River, but is vital to Lake Garda.
This dispute alone shows how extreme the drought is that is currently affecting northern Italy. Because the lack of rain since the beginning of the year has been accompanied by an unusual heat wave these days, which is making the situation even worse. The water levels in Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are currently extremely low. And summer has only just begun.
The regions are dealing with the situation differently. A regional emergency has already been declared in Lazio. Elsewhere, citizens are encouraged to conserve water and not fill their pools or wash their cars.
The presidents of the regions have also already called on the government to declare a national emergency because of the drought so that civil defense can intervene and Rome can provide financial aid more easily. Politicians like Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing Lega party, are calling for a “drought decree” to be issued with aid.
Stefano Mariani from the state environmental supervisory authority Ispra told WELT: “If it continues to rain so little, there will soon be a lack of water everywhere. In agriculture, in industry, in hydroelectric power generation, with families and of course in nature itself.”
Farmers are also sounding the alarm. The Coldiretti farmers’ association reported that the cows needed more water because of the great heat and produced up to 40 percent less milk. And farmers warned in the middle of the week that the drought could cause damage of up to one billion euros – in the Po Valley alone, half of the harvest is at risk.
“We see the effects of climate change here in Italy,” explains Antonello Pasini, climate researcher at the national research institute CNR, in an interview with WELT. According to him, two problems are currently occurring at the same time, which reinforce each other: “In Italy and the entire Mediterranean region, the air currents have changed. Therefore, high pressure areas that previously hung over the Sahara are coming to Italy more frequently.”
The result: less frequent rainfall, which – when it does come – is often so heavy that the ground cannot absorb the water. There are also unusually high temperatures. According to CNR data, last May was the second hottest of the past 220 years.
The second big problem is that it rained and snowed too little last winter. “The snow on the mountains is now missing in spring and summer because it is an important water reservoir for the whole north of Italy,” explains Pasini. Snow caps usually melt slowly over the course of summer, providing a steady supply of water to rivers. But because less snow has fallen and the fall limit has shifted 200 meters higher, this storage facility is missing this year.
In combination with the low rainfall and high temperatures, this has caused the soil to dry out, says Pasini. “It’s a big problem, because when it rains now, the ground can’t absorb it. The water literally slides over it and is channeled into the sea.” That is why he also believes that rainfall in the coming weeks will not solve the problem.
Pasini warns that proposals such as diverting water from Lake Garda to the Po or using water from reservoirs for agriculture are only temporary solutions: “The problems are all interconnected.” If the water is diverted, the other is missing Job. That is not a sustainable solution.
He therefore believes the problem needs to be tackled more holistically: “We need to make an immediate effort to produce fewer greenhouse gases so that climate change doesn’t get worse, and then we need to learn to manage better with the little water we have. “
To do this, new irrigation systems would have to be introduced in Italy and, above all, the water pipes would have to be renewed, which are currently losing 30 to 40 percent of the water they carry.