Italy’s Po River, a vital source of water for drinking, agriculture and energy production in northern Italy, is suffering its worst drought in 70 years.
The record low water levels have prompted emergency measures to be imposed across the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.
Italy’s longest river is drying up
In some areas, the Po River, normally a wide stretch of murky water, has become a beach. Curious residents wander along the expanse of sand now exposed after the water reached critically low levels.
After months without heavy rainfall and the early arrival of soaring summer temperatures, the Po River is severely dried up. Italy’s Po River observatory has reported that the waterway is suffering its worst drought since 1952.
The drought has been exacerbated by the lack of snow in the Alps, which would normally melt throughout the spring and summer replenishing the river.
The water level is currently nearly three meters below the Po’s hydrometric zero, far lower than the average readings for June. Lake Maggiore is nearing its lowest level since 1946.
Crops and food supply at risk
The Po River is the longest in Italy. It stretches 652km from the Alps in Piedmont right across northern Italy to reach the wild oasis of the Po Delta and the Adriatic Sea on the east coast. On the way, it nourishes vast swathes of agricultural land, provides drinking water for hundreds of municipalities and generates important hydroelectric power supplies.
Now, farmers are struggling to keep crops irrigated. Rice, one of the most important products of the Po Valley, is particularly at risk. The paddy fields need to be flooded with water for the plants to grow, but supplies are scarce.
The Po Valley is the most important agricultural zone in the country. It produces some 40% of Italy’s food including wheat, tomatoes and grapes.
The Italian Farmers Confederation has warned there will be a 30-40% reduction in yields of fruit and vegetables in the Po Valley as a result of the anomalous situation.
Italy imposes emergency measures
Over 100 towns in the Po valley have been asked to ration water during the night amid the drought. According to the river observatory, the Po’s water was in high demand but supplies were running out. Tanker trucks have already been employed to supply water where local reservoirs are unable to provide it.
Leaders in the affected regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna are calling for a state of emergency to be declared.
The water level continues to drop daily and there is little hope of respite on the horizon. No rain is forecast and areas of northern Italy are set to experience a heat wave of temperatures up to 36 degrees Celcius in the coming days.