The source of Italy's longest river has dried up due to drought

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
The source of Italy's longest river has dried up due to drought
The source of the Po pictured with flowing water. Photo: Photoerick/Depositphotos"

The source of Italy's River Po has completely dried up due to prolonged drought this summer, with knock-on effects for agricultural production across the northern region.


On the Monviso mountain in Piedmont, a rock proclaims: "Here begins the Po", marking the source of the 652 kilometre river, which is the longest in Italy.  

The mountain has been name-checked in literature by prominent authors around the world, including in the prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and by Dante in the Commedia, where he uses the long river as a simile for a waterway in hell.

But now the spring is dry - an extremely rare event due to the chronic drought Italy has experienced in recent months. 

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A map of the Po Valley with the course of the river marked. Image: NordNordWest/Wikimedia Commons

Across the Po basin as a whole, there was ten percent less rainfall in August 2017 than the same month last year, according to data from the environmental protection agency, Arpa Piedmont.

This is bad news for agriculture; grains, cereals and wine grapes all grown along the banks of the Po, and they require 17 billion cubic metres of water every year. The effect of drought on on grass and crops has also put livestock under stress, with a resulting fall in milk production.

Italian consumer organization Coldiretti said the drought in the Po basin "threatens more than a third of Italian farm production, as well as more than half the farms".


A post shared by Andrea (@pennaandrea1) on Aug 8, 2016 at 1:19pm PDT

The Po's source pictured in summer 2016.

After the second hottest spring in 60 years, and the driest in the same period, Italy's lakes and reservoirs were left severely depleted. In April, the water level of the Po was almost a metre below what it was in the same period last year.

And over summer, the lack of water led Rome to turn off many of its public drinking fountains, while the Vatican switched off its monumental fountains in a 'show of solidarity'.

The effects of the drought are clearly visible in the NASA images below, taken a year apart.

The drought, coupled with a heatwave nicknamed 'Lucifer', also caused deadly wildfires which damaged vast swathes of farmland and has had a severe impact on agriculture, with both olive and wine production expected to fall significantly this autumn as a result.

In some areas, the wine harvest got off to its earliest start in a decade due to the unusual heat.

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