climate change

Climate change is drying up Italy’s longest river

Rice fields in Po Valley are flanked by the river Po. Photo credit: By Alessandro Vecchi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

As we recently reported, due to the recurrent heatwaves over the last couple of months impacting many European countries the longest river in Italy, the Po, is hitting record low water levels due to many months without heavy rainfall.

The animation below from the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite shows that part of Po valley near Piacenza reveals the extent the river has shrunk between June 2020 and June 2022. It can also be seen that the normally wide stretch of murky water has now significantly narrowed.

Water crisis

The river stretching from the Alps in the northwest to the Adriatic Sea on the east coast is a vital source of water for several regions. The Po river provides drinking water and irrigates vast areas of agricultural land. It is also producing hydroelectric power across northern Italy.

The water levels have now dropped to record-low in the Po Valley due to a combination of events; the lack of rainfall in northern Italy, high temperatures, and lack of snow in the mountains that feed the river. Many of those areas have now been without sufficient water for over four months. 

The valley could very easily be described as Italy’s food basket. It is the most important agricultural area in Italy, producing 40% of the country`s food. As the drought is ongoing, farmers are struggling to keep crops irrigated. And many towns in the valley have been asked to ration water during the night.

The drought in Italy only adds to fears in Europe, where recent reports warn that currently half of Europe is at risk of drought.

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