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The longest river in Italy is drying up and filling with seawater. What impacts will this have?

The longest river in Italy is drying up and filling with seawater. What impacts will this have? - Green Skye

The Po River is the longest in Italy. It flows from the Cottian Alps across northern Italy for 652 km (405 mi) into a delta, flowing out into the Adriatic Sea near Venice. It feeds the fertile plains of Northern Italy, the region known as Italy's breadbasket due to it being a centre for agricultural production. The Po River Valley is home to over 30% of the country's agricultural production from wheat to fruit, vegetables and half of the livestock in the country. This amounts to 40% of Italy's GDP. 

In recent months, all of this has been threatened. The river is drying up and filling with seawater. There are multiple causes of this phenomenon. Firstly there is a severe drought. Instead of raining every week or so, there has been no rain for 3 months. However this isn't where the problem starts. The snowfall and glaciers feed the river from the alps but the level of snowfall has been decreasing and is measuring 50% less than the seasonal average and the glaciers are shrinking year by year.

Near the mouth of the river in the Po Delta the water level is higher than upstream. This is due to the lack of water further up the river creating a vacuum and sucking sea water in. Salt water can even be seen flowing backwards up the river in some places. This is disastrous to the farmers who depend on the land as the saltwater is seeping into the fields, poisoning the earth and killing the crops which are becoming wilted and blackened. 

It also must be remembered that Italy is still months away from the hottest part of the year and the water levels are already what would usually be seen in August. At a monitoring station in Boretto, The head of The Interregional Body of the Po River (AIPO) stated that the river was measuring 2.9m below the zero gauge height, well below the seasonal average.

Water from the river is pumped by farmers to water their fields throughout the warmer and drier months but as the river's water level gets lower and the rain falls less, the length of time for which  this process is required is extended and more water is used reducing the levels further in a vicious cycle. Farmers have also increasingly found that the water they are pumping is filled with salt. 

Clearly something must be done to protect these farmer's livelihoods, the ecosystem as well as the stability of food production. Experts are calling on farmers to stop spraying the fields with water jets and instead lay pipes to irrigate the fields so that less will be wasted through evaporation. An agricultural group is calling for more rainwater to be used instead of river water as currently only 11% of it is being retained. The lobby has stated that fundamental change must be made to the way the Po River is currently treated. 

Perhaps the Po River can act as a warning as to what will become more frequent all around the world and the risks that could one day become common occurrences in our own lives. We can take from it knowledge of the effects that could greatly impact the livelihoods of our own farmers in the UK and the risks to food production that are now occurring in Italy. More must be done to prevent a disaster such as this becoming the status quo.





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