River Po is at its lowest level since 1972.

North Italy faces fines for water wastage

Environment News

In some northern regions, mayors have turned off taps to prevent water wastage as Italy suffers its driest winter for 65 years. The river Po is at its lowest level in 50 years.

Mayors in northern Italian towns are rationing water supplies as the country faces a severe drought. In regions including Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy and Trentino, mayors have introduced water rationing. These range from switching off the fountains, to bans on using water in gardens and allotments, and nightly restrictions on water use.

There are fines of up to €500 for those who are considered to be wasting water.

Driest winter in 65 years

Rainfall this winter was 80% lower than the seasonal average, making it the driest in the last 65 years. The issue has been more acute in the northern regions. Some areas have not had any significant rainfall in three months or more.

The river Po, the longest in the country, stretches through the northern regions from the Cottian Alps, along the 45th parallel north, before ending at a delta at the Adriatic Sea near Venice. The Po recorded its lowest winter level since 1972.

“I don’t ever recall a situation of this kind in winter. We haven’t had any rain since 8 December,” said Francesco Pietrasanta, the mayor of Quarona, a town in Piedmont, reported in The Guardian. “There are issues with water wells, some areas have had to be supplied by water tanks. The rule is to only use water for real necessity, such as for hygiene or food reasons.”

Snowfall has also been below average this year. In Piedmont, on the banks of Lake Maggiore, ItalyNews.Online co-founder Sarah Cater, has seen the effects of the heatwave and drought. “I have lived here for over 20 years, and this is certainly the driest winter in that time. We have had one day of snow this winter. The water levels in Lake Maggiore are very low due to a lack of rain and following the intense heat of the summer.”

Drought follows heatwave

The winter drought followed a particularly intense summer in Italy. A protracted heatwave saw temperatures in the high 40s. Siracusa in Sicily is believed to have broken the European record for the highest temperature when it recorded a figure of 48.8C.

The change in climate is naturally affecting the harvests. Throughout 2021, the farmers’ association Coldiretti has been warning of the impact on food production. Durum wheat and fruit harvests, plus wine production were all affected.  

Coldiretti said on 28th March, that “the announced arrival of rain saves the sowings of farmers and the tables of Italians.” Their article went on to say, “The arrival of rainfall is important to save over 30% of the national agricultural production, including tomato sauce, fruit, vegetables and wheat, and half of the livestock that are located in the Po valley.”

Rain is forecast in the north and the rest of Italy from Wednesday, though whether it will be enough to resolve the shortage and save the harvests, we will find out in due course.

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