‘Nothing left in pipes’: Europe grapples with unprecedented water shortage amid raging heat

The French government has set up a crisis team to deal with a historic drought that has left more than 100 municipalities face shortage of drinking water.

Trucks deliver water to these areas as “nothing is left in the pipes,” said Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechou. “This is a situation that we have never seen… And the bad news is that as far as we can see, there is no reason to think that it will stop.”

Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne warned that France faced “the worst drought” ever recorded in the country.

The heatwave that has been baking the country since June has prompted trees and bushes to shed their leaves early, creating pictures that look like autumn.

After a cold snap in some regions, the French national meteorological service Météo-France predicts a further rise in temperatures from Sunday and drier soil despite recent storms.

From Sunday and into the next few days, temperatures are forecast well above 30 degrees Celsius and up to 37 degrees Celsius in the southern regions.

“Maximum temperatures between 32°C and 36°C are very likely to persist for a long time in most of the country,” says Météo-France.

In Rome, residents and tourists alike cool off at the many fountains scattered throughout the city.

Popular tourist destinations in Italy such as Florence and Palermo are among the 16 Italian cities on the “red alert” list where temperatures exceed 40°C.

Rice production in the Po Valley is under serious threat as drought and hot weather continue to cause the rice fields to dry out completely and become salty due to aquifer exploitation.

Farmers say the crop of rice used for risotto can be damaged for years due to the high salt content in the soil, which kills the plants.

Part of a €17 billion government package to tackle Italy’s cost-of-living crisis also aims to mitigate the impact of the country’s worst drought in 70 years.

Last month, Italy’s agriculture minister warned Parliament that a third of Italy’s agricultural production was at risk due to drought and poor water infrastructure and that the situation would only get worse in the coming years.

Dutch Infrastructure and Water Minister Mark Harbers urged people to shower faster, rather than washing cars and watering the garden.

Houseboat owners in Arnhem say the difference between summer and winter water levels is so great that the boats lie at an angle.

Netherlands on Wednesday announced an official water shortage, already imposing restrictions on agriculture and shipping.

The government has warned that the drought is expected to “continue for some time” and further measures are being considered to conserve water during the drought while still ensuring sufficient drinking water is available.

The country is protected from water by a famous system of dams, dikes and canals, but because about a third of its land mass is below sea level, it remains particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Parts of the Netherlands, the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter after the US, have already banned farmers from surface watering their crops. Some canal locks for shipping were closed.

Priority will now be given to the safety of the Dutch dam system, followed by drinking water and energy supplies, the government said.

The water level on the Rhine in Germany also continued to fall in hot weather. Ship brokers said on Friday that shipping costs have risen because ships cannot navigate the river fully loaded.

Freight traffic on the river continues, but sometimes ships are forced to sail 75% empty. “Customers often require three ships to carry cargo instead of one,” said Roberto Spranzi, director of the shipping cooperative DTG.

Capacity is already limited due to increased demand after Germany ramped up its coal-fired power generation as it prepares to cut gas supplies from Russia, Spranzi said.

In the coming months, the water of the lower Rhine will also hit the capacity of two German coal-fired power plants.

AT Romania, the water level in the Danube fell so much that sandy islands appeared in the Calafat area. The level of the Danube is now close to its historical minimum.

The government plans to increase investment in irrigation projects to limit crop damage in the future.

On Wednesday The European Commission called on member states reuse treated municipal wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

Other parts of Europe also experienced hot weather in early summer.

Portugal recorded last month the hottest July since the start of registration in 1931, the country’s weather service IPMA said Friday.

The heat exacerbated the drought in Portugal, with 45% of the country’s mainland in a state of “extreme drought” – the highest classification, and the rest in “severe” drought, which is the second worst, at the end of July.

According to IPMA, the average temperature was 25.14°C, almost three degrees Celsius higher than the expected July average. The amount of precipitation in the country was 3 millimeters, which is about 22% of the norm.