AP

Rice fields dry up as Italy’s drought lingers on

Jun 28, 2022, 8:30 PM | Updated: Jun 29, 2022, 9:06 am

Rice farmer Giovanni Daghetta handles a dewatering pump from a tractor to get water from a channel ...

Rice farmer Giovanni Daghetta handles a dewatering pump from a tractor to get water from a channel to a completely dried rice field, in Mortara, Lomellina area, Italy, Monday, June 27, 2022. The worst drought Italy has faced in 70 years is thirsting paddy fields in the river Po valley and jeopardizing the harvest of the premium rice used for risotto. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MORTARA, Italy (AP) — The worst drought Italy has faced in 70 years is thirsting paddy fields in the river Po valley and jeopardizing the harvest of the premium rice used for risotto.

Italy’s largest river is turning into a long stretch of sand due to the lack of rain, leaving the Lomellina rice flats — nestled between the river Po and the Alps — without the necessary water to flood the paddies.

“Normally this field is supposed to be flooded with 2 to 5 centimeters (0.8 to 2 inches) of water, but now it seems to be on a sandy beach,” said rice farmer Giovanni Daghetta, as he walked through the dying rice fields in the town of Mortara. Farmers there have been producing the famed Arborio rice for centuries: the wide grains of this local variety are perfect for absorbing the flavors of risotto dishes.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, drought stress is the most damaging factor for rice, especially in the early stages of its growth. Heat waves, like those repeatedly hitting Italy with peaks of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), can significantly reduce the yield of surviving rice.

“This paddy hasn’t been irrigated for two weeks now, and 90% of the plants have already fully dried,” said Daghetta. “The remaining 10%, that are still slightly green urgently need to be submerged with water within two or three days.” But with more dry days forecast ahead, Daghetta had little hope that would happen.

The lack of rainfall has brought governors of various Italian regions to declare a state of emergency in order to conserve water and coordinate the management of minimal resources.

The region’s main water sources, the rivers Po and Dora Baltea, are eight times lower than the average seasonal levels, according to the West Sesia irrigation association, which regulates water distribution through the maze of channels which snake through the rice fields.

“From the river Po, we were supposed to receive a flow rate of 160,000 liters (42,270 gallons) per second, while we currently have an approximate flow rate between 30,000 and 60,000 liters (7,925 to 15,850 gallons) per second,” said Stefano Bondesa, president of the West Sesia association.

As a result of the water shortage, Bondesa was forced to take a few unpopular decisions, recently ruling to stop irrigating poplars, fruit trees and second crops to give priority to rice.

Tensions are starting to arise between upstream and downstream regions along the river basin and between hydroelectric plants and farmers who are all vying for the same dwindling resource. It’s feared larger conflicts could be next if rainfall doesn’t relieve empty Italian reservoirs soon.

Even Italy’s wealthiest city is feeling the effects of drought. The mayor of Milan signed an ordinance Saturday turning off the spigots of public decorative fountains to save water.

Milan’s Archbishop, Mario Delpini, made a pilgrimage on Saturday to pray for “the gift of rain.” Delpini visited three churches that serve the farming communities on the outskirts of Milan. He recited the Rosary and used holy water to bless a field in front of the St. Martin Olearo di Mediglia church.

It seemed his prayers were at least partially heard on Tuesday as Milan and part of northern Italy were temporarily relieved by several scattered showers.

But most areas are continuing to worsen. Among the stretch of sand between the Po and Ticino rivers, a river-bed-turned-beach has attracted local residents looking for a sunbathing spot.

Piero Mercanti, who now frequents the sandy river bed with his partner, has been keeping an eye on receding water levels.

“We stuck some wooden sticks in the ground last Sunday, to measure how much the river was withdrawing in one week,” he said. On his return a week later, he noted that the river withdrew by an additional 26 steps.

Italy’s drought is threatening some 3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in agriculture, an Italian farm lobby said this week. Italy’s confederation of agricultural producers estimates the loss of 30-40% of the seasonal harvest.

While unusual heat and lack of rainfall are to blame for the current crisis, Italy has a notoriously wasteful water infrastructure that national statistics agency estimates loses 42% of drinking water from distribution networks each year, in large part due to old and poorly maintained pipes.

Italy’s civil protection agency is gathering information from regions and various national ministries to propose a broader state of emergency for affected regions. Hundreds of towns and cities across the north have already passed various orders calling for responsible water use in a bid to avoid the use of rationing.

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

7 days ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

7 days ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

7 days ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

8 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

8 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

11 days ago

Rice fields dry up as Italy’s drought lingers on