LUX, France (AP) – A river once ran through it. Now, white dust and thousands of dead fish cover a wide ditch that winds through the trees at the Tille River in the village of Lux in Burgundy, France.
From dry and cracked reservoirs in Spain to falling water levels in major arteries such as the Danube, Rhine and Po, unprecedented drought is affecting nearly half of Europe. This damages farm economies, forcing water restrictions, causing forest fires and threatened aquatic species.
There has been no significant rainfall in the western, central and southern regions of the continent for almost two months. In typically rainy Britain, the government officially declared drought in southern and central England on Friday amid one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
And Europe’s drought is expected to continue in what experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.
Climate change conditions are exacerbated as warmer temperatures accelerate evaporation, dehydrated plants take up more moisture, and reduced winter snowfall limits the amount of fresh water available for summer irrigation. Europe is not alone in the crisis, as drought conditions have also been reported in East Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico.
Jean-Philippe Couasné, chief technician of the local Federation of Fisheries and Aquatic Protection, listed the species of fish that died in the Tille as he luxuriated in the 15-meter (50-foot) wide river bed.
“It’s heartbreaking,” I said. “On average, it flows about 8,000 liters (2,100 gallons) per second. … And now zero liters.”
In the upper reaches, some trout and other freshwater species can take refuge in pools via fish ladders. However, such systems are not available everywhere.
If it doesn’t rain, the river “will continue to empty. Yes, all the fish will die. … They’re trapped upstream and downstream, there’s no water coming in, so as the (water) volume decreases, the oxygen level will continue to decrease,” Couasné said. These are species that will gradually disappear.”
The regional head of the federation, Jean-Pierre Sonvico, said that diverting fish to other rivers would not help, as these waterways were also affected.
“Yes, it is dramatic because what can we do? Nothing,” I said. “We’re waiting, hoping for rain storms, but the storms are very localized, so we can’t count on that.”
The European Commission’s Joint Research Center warned this week that drought conditions will worsen, potentially affecting 47% of the continent.
Andrea Toreti, senior scientist at the European Drought Observatory, said the drought in 2018 was so extreme that similar events have not happened in the last 500 years, “but this year, I think, is really worse”.
Over the next three months, “we still see a very high risk of dry conditions in western and central Europe as well as the UK,” Toreti said.
Peter Hoffmann, a meteorologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin, said the current conditions are the result of prolonged dry weather caused by changes in global weather systems.
“It’s just that we feel it most in the summer. “But actually the drought is increasing throughout the year.”
Climate change has reduced temperature differences between regions, weakening the forces that drive the jet stream that normally brings moist Atlantic air to Europe, he said.
A weaker or unstable jet stream could bring unusually warm air from North Africa to Europe, leading to extended periods of heat. The opposite is also true when cold air from the Arctic can cause freezing conditions further south than the polar vortex would normally reach.
Hoffmann said the observations in recent years have all been at the upper end of what current climate models predict.
The drought has led some European countries to restrict water use, and shipping on the Rhine and Danube rivers is at risk.
The Germany’s largest waterway, the Rhine, is forecast to reach critically low levels in the coming days. Officials say many large vessels may find it difficult to safely navigate the river at Kaub, about halfway between Koblenz and Mainz.
On the Danube, authorities in Serbia have begun dredging to keep ships moving.
In neighboring Hungary, large sections of Lake Velens near Budapest turned into patches of dried mud, stranding small boats. Aeration and water circulation equipment have been installed to protect wildlife, but water quality has deteriorated. Swimming was prohibited at one beach over the weekend.
stretches The Po, the longest river in Italyso low that barges and boats that sunk decades ago are resurfacing.
Italy’s Lake Garda has dropped to its lowest level ever, and people flocking to the popular destination east of Milan at the start of the summer long weekend have found a new exposed shoreline of yellow bleached rocks. Authorities recently released more water from Italy’s largest lake to help with irrigation, but halted efforts to protect the lucrative tourist season.
The drought also affected England, which last month experienced its driest July since 1935, according to the Met Office weather agency. The lack of rain has depleted reservoirs, rivers and groundwater, leaving grasslands brown and dry.
Millions of people in the UK have already been banned from watering their lawns and gardens, and another 15 million around London will soon face the same ban.
UK farmers are faced with using winter feed for their animals due to running out of irrigation water and a lack of grass. Chalk streams in England – which allow underground springs to bubble up through a layer of spongy rock – are drying up and endangering aquatic life such as kingfishers and trout, the charity Rivers Trust said.
Even countries like Spain and Portugal, which are used to long periods without rain, have seen great results. In Spain’s Andalusia region, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir in Malaga province has dropped to just 13% of its capacity.
Some European farmers use tap water for their animals when ponds and streams dry up, using up to 100 liters (26 gallons) per day per cow.
In normally green Burgundy, the source of Paris’s Seine, the grass has turned yellow-brown and tractors are churning up huge clouds of dust.
Baptiste Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows fodder crops in the village of Moloy, said his animals are suffering from a decline in the quality and quantity of their milk. The 31-year-old head of the local Young Farmers union said he was forced to dive into winter feed in August.
“That’s the biggest concern,” Colson said.
According to S&P Global Commodity Insights, EU corn production is expected to be 12.5 million tonnes lower than last year, while sunflower production is expected to be 1.6 million tonnes lower.
Colson expects at least a 30% drop in corn yields, which is a big challenge for feeding his cows.
“We know we’re going to have to buy food … so the cows can continue to milk,” he said. “Economically, the cost will be high.”
Dana Beltaji and Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Ciarán Giles in Madrid, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, Bela Szandelski in Budapest, Hungary, Andrea Rosa and Luigi Navarra in Sirmione, Italy, contributed.
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