Dhe drought in northern Italy is getting worse by the day and is spreading south. Regional presidents and other officials have now called for a national emergency to be declared. Financial aid could flow from Rome; a central office would take over the distribution of the scarce water to households, farmers, reservoirs and energy suppliers.
“Only an authority with a government mandate has the power to assert itself and end provincial selfishness,” said General Director of the Anbi Water Board, Massimo Gargano. It has not rained in many northern Italian areas for more than three months. Because of the mild winter, hardly any meltwater reached the valleys and plains. Italy’s longest river, the Po, is at its lowest water level in more than 70 years.
In Valenza, in the province of Alessandria north of Genoa, flow rates have fallen to less than a quarter of what they were two years ago. The large northern Italian lakes are also affected, most notably Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. The amount of water entering the lake has dropped drastically. As a result, the volume available for irrigation in agriculture and power generation at a nearby hydroelectric power station has fallen from 95 percent of its peak to less than 20 percent on Wednesday in a year, the lowest level since 1946, according to the responsible consortium In Lake Como it is only around 13 percent of the maximum amount.
In Piedmont, water can only be used to a limited extent
The president of the Piedmont region, Alberto Cirio, ordered a few days ago in 170 cities and municipalities that water may only be used for essential purposes such as drinking and food preparation. In ten cities, most of them in the province of Novara west of Milan, the water supply has to be completely cut off at night because of the drought. Reservoirs have dried up, and some communities can only be supplied with water from trucks full of water.
“We have a very serious emergency for agriculture,” said regional president Cirio. The rice harvest in the Po region is particularly affected. One problem is that due to the low water pressure in the Po Delta, salt water from the sea pushes upstream and makes it impossible to irrigate the rice fields. The cultivation of tomatoes, fruit and maize also suffers considerable damage. Farmers report that the supply of fodder for the herds of cows in the Po Valley is declining, and milk production is already falling as a result.
According to the agricultural association CIA, water shortages are threatening around half of northern Italy’s agricultural production. The organization Confagricoltura estimates that the damage cost the farmers at least 2 billion euros. Even fish and seafood farming is at risk as higher water temperatures and less rain have increased salinity, reports the Fedagripesca-Confcooperative association.
The south of the country is now also affected
The drought is also increasingly moving south: Rivers such as the Arno, Aniene and the Tiber carry significantly less water than usual at this time of year. According to the mayor of the city of Bracciano, north of Rome, Marco Crocicchi, he cannot rule out water rationing this summer. Since the beginning of the year, only a good third of the average amount of rain in the past 16 years has fallen in the capital.
In order to get the challenges under control quickly, the government in Rome is now called upon to mediate, the water association Anbi demands. “That’s how it was done during the two drought crises that Italy has experienced in the last twenty years, and it worked,” recalls the head of the association, Gargano. Solidarity must make way for parochial thinking.
In the Aosta Valley region, for example, people are reluctant to help neighboring Piedmont. Even the municipalities on Lake Garda, which is still relatively full, do not want to give up water to irrigate the south-flowing Po via tributaries. “It wouldn’t do any good. In addition to the sick bottom, we would also have a sick Lake Garda,” says a person responsible for the municipality of Garda. It is said that they have kept their budgets well and have been trying for years to stabilize the situation with water reserves.
Northern Italy has invested too little in water infrastructure
The experts agree that in the past, too little was invested in water reservoirs and intelligent irrigation systems in northern Italy – unlike southern Italy, which has learned to deal better with water shortages. Agriculture was expanded, but not the corresponding irrigation systems. The Water and Agricultural Associations recently presented a plan to build small reservoirs to store rainwater. The estimated cost of 4 billion euros should be financed by the National Recovery Plan, which is mainly funded from European money.
But the application was rejected. A number of Italian officials are now calling again for money to be released from the European reconstruction plan. The government plans to hold an emergency meeting this week to decide on measures to combat the drought. Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli has described the declaration of a state of emergency as “inevitable”.