European drought: All dammed up but no water flows

Posted on 14 July 2005  | 
Gland, Switzerland – As Europe swelters in its latest summer heat wave, WWF warns that building more reservoirs and water storage dams will not solve the continent’s water shortage and may even damage the scarce water resources that remain. 
Persistent hot weather following months of low rainfall has raised the spectre of serious drought in many parts of Europe. Authorities have already urged consumers to cut back on water usage and in many places imposed bans on hosepipes and sprinklers and prohibited filling swimming pools or washing cars. London’s mayor has even told citizens to flush their toilets less often. 
WWF is concerned that even though reservoirs are known to lose substantial amounts of water through surface evaporation, authorities are already suggesting building more reservoirs and water storage dams to supplement water supplies during future periods of drought. 
“Europe is not suffering from a shortage of dams or reservoirs, it’s suffering from a waste of water,” said Dr Ute Collier of WWF.

“In some of the driest areas, inefficient agricultural irrigation regularly wastes 40 per cent of water, whereas in many big cities in Europe leaking pipes lose up to another third of the water." 
Water supplies in England, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are running low. In Italy, reservoirs are at depleted levels, with the River Po drying up to a trickle. Meanwhile, in Spain reservoir levels are down an average of 40 per cent compared to last year. Southern European countries have the largest area of irrigated land in Europe, and use around three times more water per unit of irrigated land than other parts of Europe. 
The large-scale loss of wetlands in Europe, for example 80 per cent in Italy, is another factor in the current crisis. Wetlands are like sponges holding water; when wetlands are destroyed, the water also disappears and no amount of manmade storage facilities will bring it back. 
“With Europe in the grips of another sizzling summer, authorities need to convert plans for dams and reservoirs into plans for improving water efficiency and restoring wetlands and fragmented rivers,” said Dr Collier.

“This problem isn’t going away as climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of droughts in Europe and elsewhere. We have to find better solutions for long-term water supply within Europe before our rivers turn to trickles.” 

For further information: 
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager
WWF Global Freshwater Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9030
Persistent hot weather following months of low rainfall has resulted in drought in many parts of Europe.
© WWF-Canon / Adam Oswell Enlarge

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