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Winter drought hits southern Europe

Tonhe is small The town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc in southern France sits on the winding Ardèche River just before it enters a deep limestone gorge. Surrounded by red-tiled two-story new homes, the population is slowly growing, fueled by an influx of tourists and their kayaks during the summer months. However, after another period of low rain, concerns over dwindling water supplies have prompted local governor Thierry de Wimmer to restrict not only water, but town sprawl across the board.It makes Vallon-Pont-d’Arc the 22nd commune Around department All new construction in it is prohibited.

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Southern Europe is experiencing its second severe drought in less than a year. This time was unusual: a dry winter. There was 32 consecutive days of no rain anywhere in France in January and February – the longest winter drought since monitoring began in 1959.

In Italy, the region along the Po River that accounts for about a third of the country’s agricultural production receives 61 percent less water than usual at this time of year. Skiers are finding snowpack in the Alps more patchy this season than in an already disappointing previous season, with Switzerland reporting record low snowfall on many of its slopes.

The Alps are the water towers of Europe. They provide 25-50% of the water that flows through the continent’s main rivers, the Danube, Po, Rhine and Rhone. With little snow to melt in the coming months, river levels could be unusually low, providing water for people and plants along their banks. Politicians are aware of the danger. On March 30, French President Emmanuel Macron opted to make his first visit outside Paris after recent protests over his pension reforms to southeast France’s largest depleted reservoir. There, he unveiled a 53-point plan to save 10 percent of water use by 2030.

On April 6, the Italian cabinet created a crisis team to draw up an emergency action plan and gave it 30 days to report back. The country’s water network certainly needs a lot of work. Last month, Italy’s environment minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, said the national average was 37% leaky; he called it “a waste we can no longer afford”. In the northeastern province of Belluno, 70% of spring water is lost on its way to consumers. Farmers in the north have planned to grow less rice because it requires more water than other crops.

Spain’s history has taught it some hard lessons in water management. The country is high and dry, and has experienced drought throughout its recorded history. The researchers determined periods of drought in the country by recording the years in which the Muslim caliphs of Al-Andalus and the bishops of Christian Spain instructed clergy and faithful to pray for rain. The country’s familiarity with drought has made it better prepared. During the reign of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (1939-1975), the reservoir expanded tenfold (in what many Spaniards remember as brutal efficiency).

That means Spain can handle it for now. But most of its water is in the north. In southern Spain, separated from the wet north by mountains, reservoir levels are falling. These southern regions also produce most of the country’s olive oil and most of Europe’s vegetables, which would be difficult without water from the north.

Such diversions are generally unwelcome. Three Spanish regions are taking the central government to court over cuts to existing water transfer schemes, partly because it would result in 12,000 hectares worth of lost agricultural output, according to a government agency. But the inauguration in March of a new water diversion project from the Tagus River to La Mancha, dotted with white windmills in southern Spain, suggests that sharing water for human consumption is less contentious than farming.

Whether the coming months will bring any relief to southern Europe remains unclear. Andrea Toreti of the Copernicus European Drought Observatory said: “Seasonal climate forecasts point to a warmer-than-usual early spring and summer, but it remains very uncertain how wet it will be.” European Union Research institute. A dry spring could hit agriculture hard, pushing up food prices again. Depleted waterways may have to be closed to large barges, increasing transportation costs.

The lack of rainfall could also cause problems for European hydropower plants, which have seen their production drop sharply in 2022 due to last year’s drought. Reservoirs in Spain, France and Switzerland are ample, in part because governments intervened last year to maintain water levels in case of winter energy shortages. The exception is Italy, where water consumption for power generation is as low as it was last March, but there is less snow in the Alps to replenish reservoirs as they melt. With droughts becoming more frequent, Europe still has a long way to go to be waterproof.

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