Italy’s biggest river is already as low as it was last summer, with winter snow fields that keep it from drying up by 75% during the warmer months, according to the Bolzano climate and environment agency.
This is already causing some dependence on Po to get it right.
“In a few days I’ll have to cancel all bookings for our Po River cruise because of the shallow water,” Captain Giuliano Landini shook his head, spreading his arms wide on the command deck of the Stradivari docked beneath the boreto. Surrounded by bridges and long stretches of sand.
His 60-meter (196-foot) long vessel used to carry up to 400 people, even in shallow water, but the river’s flow rate is only 350 cubic meters (92,000 gallons) per second, as low as last June, the hottest and driest in 70 years. .
Navigation will soon be impossible unless abundant rains come soon.
The 652-kilometer (405-mile) Po River—which runs from the northwestern city of Turin to Venice on the east coast—crosses Italy’s most densely populated, highly industrialized and most intensively cultivated country, known as the Italian Food Valley. .
It is home to fishermen and boats, feeds rich farmland, powers turbines and feeds the local population along its banks and delta. The water also sustains tourism, with millions of international holidaymakers every year in world famous lakes like Garda and Como who love to enjoy the fresh clean water, art and good food. Those who rely on it often have conflicting preferences and have to scrounge for alternative, water-saving schemes.
Landini learned to swim and sail on the Po River as a child.
“I was born on the river, it was very alive, full of fishermen and now in a few years we are only at risk of a motorway of sand, I feel sick and sad to see the river in this state,” he said. The river’s sandy banks are getting closer and closer to his ship.
According to the Po Basin Authority, in early April, river levels were at a seasonal record 30-year low, with flow rates one-third of the seasonal average. The surrounding Alps experienced unusually dry and warm winters so there are no snow deposits that normally feed the Po and other tributaries of southern and western Europe in spring and summer to meet irrigation, drinking and high water demands. Power generation.
Among the once heavily snow-covered peaks are natural and artificial lakes that are already 30% below seasonal average levels, with 75% less snow than the 10-year seasonal average, said Flavio Ruffini, director of the weather and environment agency in Bolzano province.
The alpine lakes of Bolzano province store about 100 million liters (26 million gallons) of water on average, but current levels reach only 42 million liters (11 million gallons) after a dry winter. Alpine lakes are necessary to survive the heat of Italy’s rivers.
The lakes are so dry that the old tower has resurfaced from the bed of the artificial Vernago lake, while the old bell tower of the now-submerged village of Curon Venosta stands higher than usual in Lake Resia.
Along the Adige River in northern Trento, the water flow rate is half of the seasonal average.
At low tide the Adriatic Sea feeds the Po and Adige rivers for tens of kilometers (miles), providing endangered crops, clam farms, aquifers and drinking water for some villages.
Human-caused climate change is partly responsible: Warmer temperatures cause snow to melt and more water to evaporate into the air. This can make droughts longer, more intense and more frequent.
The Italian government has not appointed an extraordinary commissioner to mediate between downstream and upstream sectors and citizens paying for water, agriculture, hydroelectricity and tourism.
Local and national authorities will soon face tough decisions about possible water rationing and how to avoid water wars between Italian regions if the rains don’t fall soon enough.
“Italy is very good at handling emergencies, but bad at planning,” said Alessandro Bratti, secretary general of the Po River Authority. “There is nothing in the recent drought order issued by the government, there is no multi-year plan, there are no executive infrastructure projects.”
Saltwater intrusion can be prevented by anti-salt barriers, but the Po Basin Authority recently received funding for a project on the Pila branch of the delta, and it will take years or even decades to break ground.
But Italian farmers are not waiting for an official response to the dry conditions. Many are investing in precision irrigation to save water during the hottest months of the year.
Probes that monitor sap directly on tree trunks, drones that record water levels on leaves, flying and underground drip irrigators and mobile applications are bringing water savings of up to 70% in some cases compared to more wasteful sprinkler irrigation methods.
“When it’s too hot, the trees go on standby, no matter how much water is poured,” said farmer Monica Gili. She recalled the struggle to keep pear fields alive and productive at her Pascolone farm near Bologna last year, when temperatures frequently exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and Even at night they were not given any relief.
The Pasqualon farm is now using drip irrigation methods that trickle water at a low rate and with the help of iFrame, a public and free internet portal that analyzes weather data, underground moisture checks and aquifer levels, gives an accurate indication of where, when and how much to water. It is necessary to pour in the fields.
“With technology and the internet, we’ve cut our water needs in half, but we’ve also achieved the goal of not stressing or overwatering the plants,” said Simone Cocci, owner of Pascolone Farm. The only problem is that those devices are very expensive. “
While the iFrame software is free, the sensors are not.
The most expensive equipment they use are sap sensors that measure its flow, costing about 50 euros ($55) per probe. While drip irrigation is cheap, installing it on a row of 250 trees can cost up to 1,000 euros ($1,100), not including labor costs.
Furthermore, the Acqua Campus Research Center estimates that 72% of Emilia Romagna farmers subscribe to the ERIFRAME open portal, which means that 185,000 hectares out of a total of 257,000 irrigated hectares in the region are irrigated using precise irrigation data.
In Italy, 16 regions are using IRFRAME’s weather, humidity, and satellite data, covering a total of 7 million hectares of irrigated land.
But for all the farmers’ water saving improvements, the sector is still set to struggle without rain.
This story is published from the Wire Agency feed without modification to the text. Only the headline has been changed.