More than 100 towns in the Po valley have been asked to ration water amid the worst drought to affect Italy’s longest river in 70 years.
Northern Italy has been deprived of significant rainfall for months, with the effects of drought along the 400-mile (650km) Po River, which stretches from the Alps in the north-west and flows through the Po delta before spilling out into the Adriatic, becoming visible early in the year.
The issue has been exacerbated by higher-than-usual temperatures and much less snow in the winter, especially in the southern Alps, which contributed to lower snowmelt flowing into the Po.
Italy’s river observatory said the Po was suffering its worst drought in seven decades, adding that demand for water in the Po valley basin was high, and supply was “running out”. With no rain forecast, the crisis was set to get worse, the observatory warned.
Italy is experiencing a protracted heatwave, with temperatures in some areas of the Po valley forecast to hit 36C by the end of the week.
The river’s depth currently measures up to 2.7 meters below the zero gauge, well below the average for June.
The situation, which is severely impacting agricultural activities as well as commercial shipping, has prompted Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, to ask for the nightly suspension of drinking water supplies in 125 towns, 100 in the Piedmont region and 25 in Bergamo province in Lombardy, in order to restore reservoir levels.
The Po also flows through Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, serving one of the most important agricultural zones in Europe.
“The snow in the Alps in Piedmont and Lombardy has totally run out,” Utilitalia said in a statement. “If this helped to replenish the flows of the Po in May, the large reservoir that usually acts as a buffer in the summer months is depleted. All the measurement stations along the Po, with the exception of Piacenza, are in severe drought conditions, with flow rates well below the average for the period.”
Lakes in the north, apart from Lake Garda, are also registering historically low water levels for the time of year.
Michele Pairotto, mayor of Tronzano Vercellese, a town in Piedmont, and member of a consortium that distributes water for the irrigation of farmland, said: “The situation is dramatic but we have known it since January,” he added. “We had hardly any rain this winter, and the mountains, which serve the basins that replenish the whole Po valley, were without snow.”