European drought dries up rivers, kills fish, destroys crops
From dry and cracked reservoirs in Spain to falling water levels on major arteries like the Danube, the Rhine and the Po, an unprecedented drought is afflicting nearly half of Europe.
It is damaging farm economies, forcing water restrictions, causing wildfires and threatening aquatic species.
There has been no significant rainfall for almost two months in the continent's western, central and southern regions. In typically rainy Britain, the government officially declared a drought across southern and central England on Friday amid one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
And Europe's dry period is expected to continue in what experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.
Climate change is exacerbating conditions as hotter temperatures speed up evaporation, thirsty plants take in more moisture and reduced snowfall in the winter limits supplies of fresh water available for irrigation in the summer.
Europe isn't alone in the crisis, with drought conditions also reported in East Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico.
The European Commission’s Joint Research Center warned this week that drought conditions will get worse and potentially affect 47% of the continent.
The drought has caused some European countries to restrict water usage, and shipping is endangered on the Rhine and the Danube rivers.
The Rhine, Germany's biggest waterway, is forecast to reach critically low levels in the coming days. Authorities say it could become difficult for many large ships to safely navigate the river at the city of Kaub, roughly midway between Koblenz and Mainz.
On the Danube, authorities in Serbia have started dredging to keep vessels moving.
In neighboring Hungary, wide parts of Lake Velence near Budapest have turned into patches of dried mud, beaching small boats. Aeration and water circulation equipment was installed to protect wildlife, but water quality has deteriorated. A weekend swimming ban was imposed at one beach.
Stretches of the Po, Italy's longest river, are so low that barges and boats that sank decades ago are resurfacing.
Italy’s Lake Garda has fallen to its lowest levels ever, and people who flocked to the popular spot east of Milan at the start of a long summer weekend found a newly exposed shoreline of bleached rocks with a yellow hue. Authorities recently released more water from the lake, Italy’s largest, to help with irrigation, but halted the effort to protect the lucrative tourist season.
The drought also has affected England, which last month had its driest July since 1935, according to the Met Office weather agency. The lack of rain has depleted reservoirs, rivers and groundwater and left grasslands brown and tinder-dry.
Millions in the U.K. already were barred from watering lawns and gardens, and 15 million more around London will face such a ban soon.
U.K. farmers face running out of irrigation water and having to use winter feed for animals because of a lack of grass. The Rivers Trust charity said England’s chalk streams — which allow underground springs to bubble up through the spongy layer of rock — are drying up, endangering aquatic wildlife like kingfishers and trout.
Even countries like Spain and Portugal, which are used to long periods without rain, have seen major consequences. In the Spanish region of Andalucia, some avocado farmers have had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to save others from wilting as the Vinuela reservoir in Malaga province dropped to only 13% of capacity.
Some European farmers are using water from the tap for their livestock when ponds and streams go dry, using up to 100 liters (26 gallons) a day per cow.
In normally green Burgundy, the source of Paris' Seine River, the grass has turned yellow-brown and tractors churn up giant clouds of dust.