Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, usually cover almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.
But the ongoing lack of rain is causing problems at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.
“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.
“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.
An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.
One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21st due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.
“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.
The Po River, which stretches across the north of the country, is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but the area is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.
Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.
Local authorities say the situation in the area has been “extremely delicate” since last week, with four regions asking the national government to declare a state of emergency and hundreds of towns now rationing water.
In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities according to the ANSA news agency.
Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?
The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the Arno, Aniene and Tiber rivers have also dropped.
Arid conditions are set to worsen as the heatwave currently gripping Italy is expected to last until the end of June, with temperatures around the country of “up to 40°C in the shade” forecast early next week.
In Milan and Turin, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has pushed the electricity grid beyond its limits over the past week, leading to blackouts.
With many parts of Europe experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year, experts have repeatedly warned that longer, earlier heatwaves are a consequence of global heating.
“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push temperatures towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, she added.