Another year of drought looms for Italy after a winter of low rain and snowfall. Italy’s lakes and rivers are already at summer levels, leading to implications across agriculture, drinking water and hydropower.
The River Po, which runs across most of the north of Italy, already has vast swathes of land looking parched. Lake Garda’s water level is currently the lowest during winter months for 35 years.
With such signs already, fears are that sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and drinking water will face serious issues. Venice is also displaying low water levels with low water levels in the city’s canals.
Rainfall down 40% in 2022
Italy’s National Research Council (CNR) said rainfall in the north was down 40% in 2022. The general absence of precipitation since the beginning of 2023 is also significant.
“Nothing has changed since 2022,” said Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society. “We are still in a situation of deficit … let’s wait for the spring, which is usually the rainiest period for the Po valley. There is a good possibility that rainfall in April and May can compensate – it’s the last hope. If we have no spring rain for two consecutive years, then it would be the first time this has ever happened.”
The Po stretches from the Alps in the north-west, flowing through the Po delta, before reaching the Adriatic. Unless rain appears in the spring, a repeat of last year’s drought is inevitable.
Earlier this week following Sicily’s floods, Coldiretti – Italy’s largest farmers’ association – sounded the alarm on extreme weather. The organisation said the 2022 drought caused €6bn worth of damage to agricultural produce. It warned a third of production was at risk this year unless another severe drought was averted.
Alessandro Bratti, the president of the Po basin authority, said the situation was most extreme in Piedmont and Lombardy. In Trentino, meanwhile, the lack of water is affecting the production of hydroelectric power.
“If you have no water you cannot produce energy, so this is another problem,” The Guardian reported Bratti as saying. “It is very critical because it hasn’t snowed or rained during this period and the forecast says it will stay this way.”
Another issue of a low water level in the Po is the encroachment of sea water inland. The salty water fills aquifers making them unusable for farm irrigation.
“Last year sea water entered for almost 40km [25 miles], which also causes a problem for drinking water as you need to use desalinators,” said Bratti.
“We have projects and funds for hydrological infrastructure, such as building barriers to prevent the sea from entering the river,” Bratti added. “There is also a proposal to build 10,000 lakes, and to introduce technical systems to cut down the waste of water in farming. We now need to accelerate the projects.”