‘Nothing left in the pipes’: Europe tackles unprecedented water shortages as heat wave rages

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

Trucks bring water to these areas, because “there is nothing left in the pipes”, declared the Minister of Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu. “It’s a situation like we’ve never seen… And the bad news is that, from what we can see, there’s no reason to think it’s going to stop.”

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne warned that France faces the “worst drought” ever recorded in the country.

The heat wave that has engulfed the country since June has prompted trees and bushes to shed their leaves early, creating scenes that seem autumnal.

After a cooling in some regions, the French national meteorological service Météo-France predicts further rises in temperatures from Sunday and an ever drier ground despite recent storms.

Temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius and up to 37 degrees C in parts of the south are forecast from Sunday and over the next few days.

“Maximum temperatures of between 32°C and 36°C could very probably be maintained for a long time over a large part of the country”, specified Météo-France.

In Rome, locals and tourists alike took a refreshing dip at the many water fountains that dot the city.

Popular tourist destinations in Italy like Florence and Palermo are among the 16 Italian cities on the “red alert” list, with temperatures exceeding 40°C.

Rice production in the Po Valley is under serious threat as drought and hot weather continue to cause the paddy fields to dry up completely and become salified due to the use of aquifers.

Farmers say crops of rice used for risotto could be damaged for years by the increased salt content in the soil, which kills the plants.

Part of a €17 billion package of government measures to tackle Italy’s cost of living crisis is also aimed at mitigating the effects 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 years to come.

Dutch Infrastructure and Water Management Minister Mark Harbers called on people to shower faster and not wash their cars or water the garden.

Houseboat owners in Arnhem say the difference between water levels in summer and winter is so great that the boats are tilted.

The Netherlands declared an official water shortage on Wednesday, after previously imposing limits on agriculture and shipping.

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

The country is protected from water by a famous system of dams, levees and canals, but with around a third of its area below sea level, it remains particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Parts of the Netherlands, the world’s second largest agricultural exporter after the United States, have already banned farmers from watering their crops with surface water. Some canal locks for navigation have been closed.

Priority would now be given to the safety of the Dutch dike system, followed by the supply of drinking water and energy, according to the government.

Rhine water levels in Germany also continued to decline in hot weather. Freight costs have risen because ships cannot navigate the river fully loaded, ship brokers said on Friday.

The transport of goods on the river continues but with ships sometimes forced to sail 75% empty. “Clients would often need three ships to transport their cargo instead of just one,” said Roberto Spranzi, director of the DTG shipping cooperative.

Shipping capacity is already constrained due to increased demand after Germany’s decision to increase coal-fired power generation as it prepares for reduced gas supplies from Russia, Spranzi added.

Water from the Bas-Rhin will also affect the production of two German coal-fired power stations in the coming months.

In Romania, water levels on the Danube have dropped so much that sand islands have surfaced in the Calafat area. The levels of the Danube are now close to their historic low.

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

Wednesday the European Commission has called on Member States reuse treated urban wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

Other parts of Europe also experienced scorching conditions at the start of the summer.

Portugal last month recorded his warmest July since records began in 1931, the country’s meteorological service IPMA announced on Friday.

The heat has worsened the drought in Portugal, with 45% of the continent in “extreme drought” – the highest classification – and the rest in “severe” drought, which is the second highest, at the end of July.

The average temperature was 25.14°C, according to the IPMA, nearly three degrees Celsius higher than the July average. National rainfall measured 3 millimeters, about 22 percent of the normal amount.