Article  Europe is bracing for (another) devastating drought

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EXCERPT: . . . Last summer, drought exacerbated by record temperatures around the continent was in the headlines. The subsequent dry winter has meant that many aquifers—places underground that retain water—and surface reservoirs have not had a chance to recover. Now, summer beckons once again, and experts who spoke to WIRED are worried that a severe water shortage could threaten lives, industry, and biodiversity in a big way.

The European Drought Observatory tracks indicators of drought across the continent, including from satellite measurements, and suggests that vast regions are far drier than they should be. “Honestly, all over Central Europe, this issue, it’s a widespread problem,” says Carmelo Cammalleri at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

He estimates that reservoirs in France and northern Italy are about 40 to 50 percent lower than they should be. The longest river in Italy, the Po, is 60 percent below its normal levels. Not only that, there is roughly half the usual snow on the Alps than would be expected for this time of year. That’s a huge problem, because much of Central Europe relies on meltwater from these famous mountains every spring. “The Alps are known as the water towers of Europe for a reason,” says Cammalleri.

France has just experienced its driest winter for 60 years. In some places, you can find extreme examples of how people have been affected. Take the village of Coucouron in the south of the country, where a truck has had to deliver drinking water up to 10 times a day since July—without any hiatus during the supposedly wetter months.

In the UK, also, many rivers are at record lows. And look to the Rhine, an arterial river that rises in the Alps and flows through multiple countries toward the North Sea. It fell considerably last year, causing massive headaches for barges that use it to transport goods. Right now, the river level is 1 to 2 meters below average for this time of year, according to some estimates. Lucie Fahrner, a spokeswoman for the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, denies that the river level is low at present, despite its lower-than-average levels, adding that various measures to help shipping cope with drought in the future are currently being evaluated.

What happens during the next few months will really matter. Abundant rainfall could ease the situation and stave off the worst-case scenario. But Europe needs a lot. “We’re talking about a sea, a sea’s worth of water,” says Hannah Cloke at the University of Reading in the UK... (MORE - missing details)

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