The longest and mightiest river in Italy is as low as last summer, as the snowfields winter seasons that normally keep it from drying out in the warmer months have regressed 75%according to the Bolzano Climate and Environment Agency.
This is already causing some who depend on the po correct the direction
“In a few days I will have to cancel all reservations of our Po cruises due to the shallow water,” said Captain Giuliano Landini while shaking his head with his arms outstretched on the ship’s bridge Stradivarimoored under the Boretto bridge and surrounded by long stretches of sand.
His 60 meter long boat used to transport up to 400 people even in shallow water, but the river’s flow is just 350 cubic meters per second, as low as last June, when conditions were some of the hottest and driest in 70 years.
The navigation will be impossible if abundant rains do not arrive soon.
The river powhich runs 652 kilometers from the northwestern city of Turin until Veniceon the eastern coast, crosses the most densely populated, industrialized and cultivated area of Italy, known as the italian food valley.
Is he home of fishermen and boatsfeed rich farmlandfeeds turbines and satisfies the local populations along its shores and delta. The water also keeps the tourismwith world-famous lakes such as garda and As Packed each year by millions of international vacationers who love to enjoy fresh, crystalline waters, art and good food. Those who depend on it often have conflicting priorities and are forced to seek alternative plans to save water.
Landini he learned to swim and drive a boat on the Po as a boy.
“I was born in the river, before it was so alive, full of fishermen and now in a few years we run the risk of having only a highway of sandit disgusts me and anguish to see the river in that state”, he said looking at the sandy banks of the river closer and closer to his boat.
In early April, the river level reached a record seasonal low in 30 yearswith flows of one third of the seasonal average, according to the Po basin organization. The Alps surrounding areas have suffered unusually dry winter and warmthus lacking the snow reserves that would normally have fed the Po and other southern and western European tributaries in late spring and summer to meet the high water demand for irrigation, drink and electricity generation.
Among the once densely snowed peaks there are natural lakes and artificial that they are already a 30% below seasonal average levelswith snow cover 75% lower than the 10-year seasonal average, explained Flavio Ruffini, director of the climate and environment agency of the province of Bolzano.
The alpine lakes from the province of bolzano store an average of 100 million liters of water, but the current level barely reaches 42 million liters after the dry winter Alpine lakes are essential for the summer survival of Italian rivers.
The lakes are so parched that an old tower is rising from the bed of the artificial lake of Vernagowhile the old bell tower of the town of Curon Venostanow submerged, rises higher than usual in the lake of resia
Along the banks of the adige riverin the north of trentthe water also has a flow of half the seasonal average.
Low flow rates allow the Adriatic Sea seeps down the rivers Po and adige over tens of kilometres, putting into danger crops, farms of clams, aquifers and even the drinking water of some towns.
Man-made climate change is partly responsible: warmer temperatures melt snow and more water evaporates into the air. This can make the droughts are longer, more intense, and more frequent.
The Italian government has not yet named the extraordinary commissioner that will mediate between the downstream and upstream regions and between the citizens who pay for drinking water, agriculture, hydroelectricity and tourism.
Local and national authorities will soon be faced with draconian decisions over a possible water rationing and on how to avoid water wars between the different Italian regions if it doesn’t rain soon.
“Italy is very good at managing emergencies, but pretty bad at planning,” he explains. Alessandro Brati, general secretary of the river authority of the Po. “In the recent decree on the drought published by the Government there is nothing, there is no multi-year planningthere are no executive infrastructure projects”.
The salt water intrusion It could be stopped with salt barriers, but the Po Basin Authority has just received funding for a project in the Pila arm of the delta and it will be years or even decades before the first stone is laid.
But Italian farmers are not waiting for an official response to the drought. Many are investing in precision irrigation to save water during the hottest months of the year.
The probes that monitor the sap directly into the tree trunksthe drones that record the amount of water on the leaves, the flying and underground drippers and the mobile apps they are assuming water savings of up to 70% in some cases compared to the more wasteful sprinkler irrigation method.
“The trees are put in standby when it is too hot, no matter how much water you pour on them”, explains the farmer Monica Gilli. Remember last year’s struggle to keep the pear field alive and productive in the Pascolone farmnearly bolognawhen the temperature frequently exceeded 40 degrees Celsius and did not give them a break, even at night.
The farm pascolone now use methods drip irrigation that distil water at a slower speed and the help of irriframea free public internet portal that analyzes meteorological data, underground humidity probes and aquifer levels, giving exact indications on where, when and how much water should be dumped in the fields.
“With technology and the internet, we have halved our water needs”, affirms Simone Cocchi, owner of the Pascolone estate, “but we have also achieved the goal of not stressing or over-watering the plants. The only problem is that those tools are very expensive”.
Although the Irriframe software is free, the sensors are not.
The most expensive tool they use is the sap sensors that measure its flow, which cost about 50 euros (55 dollars) per probe. Although drip irrigation is cheaper, installing it along a row of 250 trees can cost up to 1,000 euros ($1,100), not including labor costs.
Even so, the research center Aqua Campus estimates that 72% of farmers in emilia romagna are subscribed to the open portal irriframewhich means that 185,000 hectares out of a total 257,000 irrigated hectares in the region are irrigated with precision irrigation data.
In Italy, 16 regions use weather datahumidity and Irriframe satellite, a total of 7 million hectares of irrigated land.
But despite all the improvements in water savings, the region will continue to suffer if it does not rain.
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