European drought dries up rivers, kills fish, shrivels crops

LUX, France (AP) — Once upon a time, a river flowed through it. Now, white dust and thousands of dead fish cover a wide trench that winds between rows of trees in France’s Burgundy region, where the Tille River meets the village of Lux.

From dry and cracked reservoirs in Spain to falling water levels on major arteries such as the Danube, Rhine and Po, almost half of the European continent is suffering from unprecedented drought. It is damaging the agricultural economy, restricting water, causing wildfires and endangered aquatic species.

Western, Central and Southern Europe have not seen significant rainfall for nearly two months. And the dry spell is expected to continue in what experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.

Climate change Warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation, thirsty plants take up more moisture, and reduced winter snowfall limits the supply of fresh water available for summer irrigation. Europe is not alone in the crisis, with drought conditions in East Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico.

Walking the 15-meter-wide (50-foot-wide) riverbed in Lux, Jean-Philippe Cousnay, chief technician for the local Federation for Fishing and Protection of the Aquatic Environment, listed the species of fish that had died. mounds

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “On average, about 8,000 liters (about 2,100 gallons) are flowing per second. … and now, zero liters.

Upstream in some areas, some trout and other freshwater species are able to take refuge in ponds via fish ladders. But such systems are not available everywhere.

Without rain, the river “will continue to empty. And yes, all the fish will die. … They’re trapped upstream and downstream, there’s no water coming in, so oxygen levels will continue to decrease as the (water) volume decreases,” Cousane said. “These are species that will slowly die out.”

Jean-Pierre Sonwicko, the federation’s regional head, said diverting fish to other rivers would not help because those waterways were also affected, leading to overcrowding and more deaths.

“Yes, it is dramatic because what can we do? Nothing,” he said. “We’re waiting, hoping for a storm with rain, 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 Toretti, a senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory, said the drought in 2018 was so severe that it had not happened in the last 500 years, “but this year, I think, it’s really bad.”

For the next three months, “we still see a high risk of dry conditions in western and central Europe, as well as the UK,” Toretti said.

Peter Hoffmann, a meteorologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research near Berlin, said the current situation is the result of prolonged dry weather caused by changes in the global climate system.

“We feel it the most in the summer,” he said. “But actually there is a year-round drought.

Climate change has reduced temperature differences between regions, reducing the forces that drive the jet stream, which normally brings wet Atlantic weather to Europe, he said.

A weak or unstable jet stream can bring unusually warm air from North Africa into Europe, causing the heat to persist for a long time. The opposite is also true, when a polar vortex of cold air from the Arctic can create freezing conditions south of where it normally reaches.

Hoffman said observations in recent years are at the upper end of what current climate models predict.

The drought has led some European countries to restrict water use and threaten shipping on the Rhine and Danube.

The Rhine may reach critical low levels In the future, transporting goods – including coal and gasoline – is becoming increasingly difficult. On the Danube, authorities in Serbia have begun dredging sand to deepen the waterway and keep ships moving.

In neighboring Hungary, large stretches of the popular Lake Valens near Budapest have been turned into dried mudflats, beached for small boats. Aeration and water circulation devices have been installed to protect wildlife, but water quality has deteriorated so much that swimming is banned at one beach on weekends.

The Po, Italy’s longest riverThere are so few that barges and boats that sunk decades ago are resurfacing.

The drought has also affected southern England, which received just 10% of average rainfall in July. Firefighters are battling an unprecedented number of grass fires, and people in many areas are banned from watering their lawns.

The Rivers Trust charity said England’s chalk streams – which are underground springs that bubble up through a spongy layer of rock – are drying up, threatening aquatic wildlife such as kingfishers and trout.

Even countries like Spain and Portugal, which are used to long periods without rain, have seen major impacts. In the Spanish region of Andalusia, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Viñuela reservoir in Malaga province dropped to just 13% of capacity, down 55% from a year ago.

Some European farmers are using tap water for their livestock where ponds and streams have dried up, using up to 100 liters (26 gallons) per cow per day.

In green Burgundy, where Paris’s Seine River originates, the grass has turned yellow-brown and tractors kick up giant clouds of dust.

Baptist Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows fodder crops in Molloy village, said his animals are suffering from the drought, reducing the quality and quantity of milk.

The 31-year-old head of the local Jaynes Agriculturists (young farmers) union said he had been forced to dip into his winter fodder supply in August.

“That’s the biggest concern,” Colson said.

According to a report by S&P Global Commodity Insights, EU corn production is forecast to be 12.5 million tonnes lower than last year and sunflower production 1.6 million tonnes lower.

Colson expects at least a 30% drop in corn yields, a major problem for feeding his cows.

“We know we have to buy food … so the cows can continue to produce milk,” he said. “From an economic point of view, the cost will be higher.”


Dana Beltaji and Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Bela Szandelski in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this report.


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