Looming water shortage in Northern Italy

20 Feb 2023 by The Water Diplomat

low water levels on the Po River in 2022

Images from the Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellites from February 15th show reduced flow of the Po River in Italy. This is the second year in a row that the Po valley has been affected by drought. According to the National Association of Reclamation, Irrigation and Land Improvement (ANBI), within the Po Basin, some 70 municipalities have already announced early warning  status, and in some municipalities, tanker trucks are being brought in to ensure continued water supplies.  The Po River, which is Italy’s longer waterway, stretching more than 650 km, has been flowing at very low levels since the summer of 2022, when flow levels reached 145 m³ / second, as compared to the average for June of 1,805m³

The Po River currently has 61% less water than is usually for this time of the year, and snowfall over the Alps this winter has been less than half of the annual average so far. Snow is an important source of water in spring and summer, as meltwater from rising temperatures contributes to streamflow. Giorgio Zampetti, the director of an Italian environmental organisation, Legambiente, stated that “2023 has just started, but it is already showing worrying signs in terms of extreme climate events and drought levels”.

Alessandro Bratti, the Secretary General of the Po River Basin Authority, stated that the situation is critical and that all indicators, flow rates and temperatures indicate that the basin will face another year of crisis. A crucial issue in the coming months is the question whether enough rain will fall to compensate for the shortages that have accumulated so far.  The existing water demand for irrigation and urban and industrial use depends on this annual supplement.