LUX, France (AP) – A river once ran through it. Now, white powder and thousands of dead fish cover the wide moat blowing through the trees in the village of Lux, the Tille River, in Burgundy, France.
An unprecedented drought is affecting nearly half of Europe, from dry and cracked reservoirs in Spain to falling water levels in major arteries such as the Danube, Rhine and Po. It’s hurting farm economies, pushing water restrictions, cause forest fires and threatens aquatic species.
There has been no significant rainfall for about two months in the western, central and southern parts of the continent. In typically rainy England, the government officially declared a drought in south and central England on Friday amid one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
And Europe’s dry season is expected to continue during what experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.
climate change warmer weather accelerates evaporation, thirsty plants absorb more moisture, and reduced snowfall in winter is making conditions worse as it limits the freshwater resources available for irrigation in summer. Europe is not alone in the crisis, with drought conditions also reported in eastern Africa, the western United States, and northern Mexico.
Jean-Philippe Couasné, chief technician for the local Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Federation, listed the species of fish that died in Tille as he walked the 15-metre (50-foot) wide riverbed at Lux.
“This is heartbreaking,” he said. “On average, about 8,000 liters (2,100 gallons) flow per second. … And now zero liters.”
In upstream areas, some trout and other freshwater species can find refuge in ponds via fish ladders. But such systems are not available everywhere.
Without rain, the river “will continue to drain. And yes, all the fish will die. … They are trapped upstream and downstream, no water is coming in, so the oxygen level will continue to drop as the (water) volume decreases,” Couasné said. “These are species that will slowly disappear.”
The federation’s regional president, Jean-Pierre Sonvico, said diverting fish to other rivers would not help because those waterways were also affected.
“Yeah, it’s dramatic because what can we do? Nothing,” he said. “We’re hoping for rainy storms, but the storms are very local 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, a senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory, said the drought in 2018 was so extreme that there had been no similar events 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 drought in Western and Central Europe, as well as in the UK,” Toreti said.
Meteorologist Peter Hoffmann of the Potsdam Climate Impact Research Institute near Berlin said the current conditions are due to prolonged dry weather caused by changes in the world’s weather systems.
“It’s just in the summer that we feel it the most,” she said. “But actually the drought increases throughout the year.”
He said climate change is reducing temperature differences between regions and reducing the forces that drive the jet stream that normally brings wet Atlantic air to Europe.
A weaker or unstable jet stream could bring unusually warm air from North Africa to Europe, resulting in prolonged periods of heat. The reverse is also true when a polar vortex of cold air from the Arctic causes freezing conditions far south of where it would normally reach.
Hoffmann said observations in recent years are at the top of the forecasts of current climate models.
Drought has caused some European countries to restrict water use, and shipping is in danger on the Rhine and Danube rivers.
this Rhine, Germany’s largest waterway, expected to reach critically low levels next days. In the city of Kaub, roughly halfway between Koblenz and Mainz, authorities say it can be difficult for many large ships to navigate the river safely.
On the Danube, authorities in Serbia began to dredge ships to move.
In neighboring Hungary, large sections of Lake Velence near Budapest have turned into chunks of dry mud washed ashore by small boats. Ventilation and water circulation equipment has been installed to protect wildlife, but the water quality has deteriorated. A weekend swimming ban was imposed on a beach.
reaching out Po, Italy’s longest riverso low that barges and boats that sank decades ago are reappearing.
Italy’s Lake Garda has dropped to its lowest levels ever, and people flocking to the popular spot east of Milan at the start of a long summer weekend found a shoreline of newly emerged yellow-toned bleached rocks. Authorities recently released more water from the lake, Italy’s largest, to aid irrigation, but stalled efforts to preserve the lucrative tourist season.
The drought also affected Britain, which experienced its driest July since 1935 last month, according to the Met Office weather agency. The lack of rain has depleted reservoirs, rivers and groundwater, leaving meadows brown and dry.
Millions in the UK have already been banned from watering lawns and gardens, and 15 million people around London will soon face such a ban.
Farmers in England are faced with running out of irrigation water due to a lack of grass and having to use winter fodder for their animals. The Rivers Trust charity said England’s chalk streams – allowing groundwater resources to run through a layer of spongy rock – are drying up and endangering aquatic wildlife such as kingfisher and trout.
Even countries like Spain and Portugal, which are used to being without rain for long periods of time, have seen great results. In Andalusia, Spain, some avocado farmers had to sacrifice hundreds of trees to keep others from wilting, as the Vinuela reservoir in the province of Malaga fell to just 13% of its capacity.
Some European farmers use tap water for their animals up to 100 liters (26 gallons) per cow per day when ponds and streams dry up.
In normally green Burgundy, the source of Paris’s River Seine, the grass turned yellow-brown and the tractors created huge dust clouds.
Baptiste Colson, who owns dairy cows and grows forage crops in the village of Moloy, said his animals are suffering and their milk is declining in quality and quantity. The 31-year-old head of the local Young Farmers union said he had to dive into his winter fodder 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 tons lower than last year and sunflower production is expected to be 1.6 million tons lower.
Colson expects at least a 30% drop in corn yield, which is a big problem for feeding his cows.
“We know we have to buy food so that the cows can continue to produce milk,” he said. “From an economic perspective, the cost will be high.”
Dana Beltaji and Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Lisbon, Barry Hatton in Portugal, Ciarán Giles in Madrid, Belgrade, Dusan Stojanovic in Serbia and Bela Szandelszky in Hungary and Sirmione in Italy Andrea Rosa and Luigi Navarra contributed.
Follow the AP’s climate coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment