The highest ecclesiastical leaders are not immune from the farmers’ plight in the Po Valley. At order to pray “for the gift of water and for a judicious use of this crucial resource,” Milan’s Archbishop Mario Delpini will lead services in three rural parishes in his diocese on Saturday, the Archdiocese of Milan announced.
So that the sky would finally rain again on the parched soil and the parched fields, various country priests had led processions with the faithful in the preceding few days throughout the areas of Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna, which were particularly impacted by the heat and drought.
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The intercessions haven’t worked, since Italy as a whole and the Po Valley in particular are currently experiencing heat and drought that haven’t occurred in at least eight decades. Since the beginning of December, Piedmont hasn’t experienced any significant rainfall, and in Emilia-Romagna, the level of the “Grande Fiume,” Italy’s greatest river, is eight meters below the seasonal average.
On Wednesday, 160 cubic meters per second flowed in the direction of the Adriatic Sea at the Pontelagoscuro measurement station, a few kilometers above the Po delta. At this time of the year, 1500 to 2000 cubic meters would be typical because the bottom has shrunk to a trickle. Since the river is now more than 20 kilometers inland and below sea level, salt water from the Adriatic Sea seeps into the fields and the groundwater as it travels down the river bed.
“Nothing grows within 200 meters of the channel of the river; the ground has become a desert,” says Giancarlo Mantovani, director of the Po Delta Maintenance Consortium, of the outcome. It is only a matter of time “before salt water comes out of the taps” due to the seepage of salt water into the groundwater.
In Piedmont, on the upper course of the river, it doesn’t look any better. Farmer Giuseppe Casalone, whose farm is a few kilometers south of Novara, declares, “Believe me, I’m not exaggerating: we are experiencing a calamity of biblical proportions here.” Even rain wouldn’t help because the majority of his plants have dried up so much; the young plants have already perished. The hottest and driest months of the year, July and August, are still to come, and summer has only just begun.
Crop failure rates in early grain varieties are already approaching 30%, according to the Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti. For fruits and vegetables, the group anticipates a 40% loss.
The farmers who grow rice suffer the most; Paolo Carrà, president of the rice producers in Novara, Biella, and Vercelli in Piedmont, adds, “If it doesn’t rain very soon, there will be disaster.” The rice fields should actually be flooded at this time of year, but that is now not likely considering how dramatically low the rivers are.
A branch of the Po, the Sangone, has likewise stopped flowing. It scarcely carries any water where it is near Turin. Photo by Massimo Pinca of REUTERS.
More than half of the rice produced in the EU, according to Carrà, is grown in the Po Valley; in Piedmont alone, 4,000 rice farms generate 800,000 tons of rice annually, or 27% of the EU’s total output. Due to the drought, Carrà predicts crop failures of between 50 and 70 percent. Coldiretti claims that there is a risk of damage in the billions. A state of emergency has been issued in numerous areas.
Although Lake Garda is only 60 percent full, the holiday pleasures on the waters, which are equally popular with tourists and locals, have not reduced. There is still not much to be felt as a result of the water shortage. In any case, Lake Garda, with its capacity of 50 billion cubic meters, is the greatest water reservoir in northern Italy, which is precisely why a contentious disagreement regarding the quantity of outflow is happening behind the scenes.
The Regulatory Authority for the Po Basin in Peschiera del Garda has ordered the opening of the sluices in order to reduce the flow rate over the Mincio river, first by 10 and then by 30 cubic meters rise per second, in order to aid the Po, its wildlife, and the farmers south of the lake. For such emergency situations, such procedures are outlined in national legislation.
At Beinasco, the bottom is also well below average.
The surrounding villages raised the alarm last week and yelled “basta” since the level of Lake Garda is now now dropping at an alarming rate due to the increased discharge volume and evaporation as a result of rising water temperatures. Pierlucio Ceresa, general director of the Garda Association of Municipalities, notes that “we have to safeguard our shipping and the fish, while at the same time making sure that the farmers around the lake can still irrigate their crops in August.”
Additionally, the Po gains nothing from the increased discharge of 30 cubic meters per second: “The river currently requires at least 500 more cubic meters per second. By releasing the locks, all we shall do is to cause Lake Garda to become ill after the Po.
Head of the Po regulator Meuccio Berselli has a different perspective and urges “collegiality and cooperation” from the Lake Garda municipalities. In an effort to help farmers along the Po, the power providers Enel, Edison, and A2A have recently demonstrated their solidarity by promising to drain a total of five million cubic meters from their reservoirs over the course of the next 10 days.
A representative for Enel yesterday highlighted that after that, “the reserves are over because our water reservoirs are just half full.” In other words: Prayer may be the only thing left to help now that most emergency methods have been tried.