Italy’s Po Valley rations water amid worst drought in 70 years

Four northern Italian regions are preparing to declare a state of emergency over a major drought threatening crops and forcing towns in the Po Valley to ration water.

A view shows the dessicated bed of the river Po in Boretto, northeast of Parma, on June 15, 2022.
The dessicated bed of the river Po in Boretto, northeast of Parma, on June 15th, 2022. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP.

Regional president Attilio Fontana told reporters on Thursday the situation was “extremely delicate” in the valley, which stretches across the north and houses a crucial agricultural sector.

Fontana said the drought was the worst in 70 years and that a state of emergency was likely to be declared for Lombardy, home to Milan, as well as three neighbouring regions: Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.

The Po River is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water and much of it is used by farmers.

Some areas have now been without rain for over 110 days, according to the Po River observatory.

With no rain forecast, councils have begun installing water tankers and imposing hosepipe pans.

READ ALSO: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, has asked mayors in 100 towns in Piedmont and 25 in Lombardy to suspend nighttime drinking water supplies to replenish reservoir levels.

The drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the valley at risk, Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Thursday.

The low level of the Po is also leading to salt seawater infiltration into low-lying agricultural areas, compounding farmers’ problems, it said.

Boats lie on a dessicated bank of the river Po in Boretto, northeast of Parma, on June 15th, 2022. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

The report says that more than a quarter (28 percent) of Italian national territory is at risk of desertification, both in southern and northern regions.

Lake Maggiore and Lake Como in the north are also at worrying low levels – 22.7 percent and 30.6 percent respectively.

The problem in the Po Valley is worsened by the fact that the snow on the Lombard and Piedmontese Alps has completely run out, and it’s feared that the melting glaciers and mountain springs which helped alleviate the problem in May could also dry up in the coming months.

READ ALSO: Nine in 10 Italians ‘want more action on climate crisis’, new study finds

It’s “perfect storm, a year like this has never been seen before,” Meuccio Berselli, secretary general of the Po River District Authority, told the Ansa news agency.

“The snow on the Alps has completely disappeared, glaciers in a state of exhaustion, temperatures higher than average, scarce rains, hot winds that dry the soils … The Po has not had such a low flow rate for 70 years, but the truth is that we will see it even lower”.

Temperatures in the area are forecast to reach up to 30C over the weekend and up to 35C into next week.

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Italian climate activists throw flour over Andy Warhol car

Italian environmental group Ultima Generazione on Friday poured flour over a sports car painted by Andy Warhol on display in Milan, in the latest of a wave of protests demanding action on climate change.

Italian climate activists throw flour over Andy Warhol car

Protesters entered the Fabbrica del Vapore exhibition space in Milan at around 11am on Friday morning and threw eight kilos of flour over a BMW sports car painted by the late Andy Warhol back in 1979. 

Two members of the environmental group Ultima Generazione (‘Last Generation’) then proceeded to glue their hands to the car’s windows. 

At the time of writing it wasn’t clear whether the artwork, valued at 10 million euros, had suffered any significant damage.

“They told us beauty will save the world, but that’s bullshit,” Ultima Generazione sad in a statement released immediately afterwards.

“Only immediate and radical actions to tackle the effects of the current climate crisis will change the world as we know it.”

Activists from Italy’s Ultima Generazione after their latest protest in Milan on Friday, November 18th. Photo: Ultima Generazione.

In the same statement, the group referred to the Italian government’s handling of the environmental crisis as “criminal”, accusing people in power of “endangering people’s lives”.

Friday’s episode was only the latest in a series of demonstrations seeking to jolt public opinion over the consequences of climate change and the need to make the switch to renewable energy sources.

READ ALSO: Climate activists hurl pea soup at Van Gogh painting in Rome

Only two weeks ago, on November 4th, protesters from the same group hurled pea soup at a Van Gogh painting in Rome – an action which Italy’s new culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, later condemned as “ignoble”. 

Ultima Generazione began in 2021 as a “campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience” aimed at uniting Italian activists concerned about climate change and the future of the planet.

The group has two main demands. Firstly, they ask that the reopening of old coal power plants be paused immediately and that all scheduled fracking operations be cancelled. 

Secondly, they want an increase in the use of solar energy and wind power equivalent to at least 20 gigawatts. 

Ultima Generazione is part of a EU-wide network of climate activists who have been recently targeting world-famous artworks, including Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in The Hague, Netherlands and Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” in Vienna.