Italy’s Lake Garda shrinks to near historic low amid drought

SIRMIONE Italy — Italy’s worst drought in decades has reduced Lake Garda, the country’s largest lake, to nearly its lowest level ever recorded, exposing portions of previously underwater rocks and warming the water to temperatures approaching the average in the Caribbean Sea.

Tourists flocking to the popular northern lake on Friday for the start of Italy’s main long summer weekend found a vastly different landscape than in years past. A vast swathe of bleached rock stretched far from the normal shoreline, encircling the southern peninsula of Sirmione with a yellow halo between the green hues of the water and the coastal trees.

“We came last year, we liked it, and we came back this year,” said tourist Beatrice Masi as she sat on the rocks. “We discovered that the landscape had changed a lot. We were a bit shocked when we arrived as we had our usual walk and the water wasn’t there.”

Northern Italy hasn’t seen significant rainfall in months, and snowfall this year fell by 70%, drying up important rivers like the Po, which flow through Italy’s agricultural and industrial heart. Many European countries, including Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Britain, have experienced droughts this summer that have damaged farmers and shippers and prompted authorities to limit water use.

The parched state of the Po, Italy’s longest river, has already caused billions of euros in losses for farmers who normally depend on it to irrigate fields and rice paddies.

To compensate, authorities allowed more water to flow from Lake Garda to the local rivers — 70 cubic meters (2,472 cubic feet) of water per second. But in late July, they cut the amount to protect the lake and the financially important tourism associated with it.

With 45 cubic meters (1,589 cubic feet) of water per second diverted to rivers, the lake was 32 centimeters (12.6 inches) above the water table on Friday, near its lows in 2003 and 2007.

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Garda Mayor Davide Bedinelli said he needed to protect both farmers and the tourist industry. He insisted the summer season was going better than expected, despite cancellations, mainly from German tourists, during the latest heat wave in Italy in late July.

“Drought is a fact we will be dealing with this year, but the tourist season is not in danger,” Bendinelli wrote in a July 20 Facebook post.

He confirmed that the lake was losing two inches of water per day.

The lake’s temperature, meanwhile, was above the August average, according to On Friday, the water off the Garda was nearly 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), several degrees warmer than the August average of 22 C (71.6 F) and almost the Caribbean Sea average of about 27 C (80 degrees Fahrenheit). F).

For Mario Treccani, who owns a concession of beach chairs and umbrellas on the lake, the lake’s extensive shoreline means fewer people rent his chairs, as there are now plenty of rocks for sunbathing.

“The lake is usually a meter or more than a meter higher,” he said from the rocks.

Pointing to a wall that usually blocks the water from the beach chairs, he remembered that on windy days, sometimes the waves of the lake splashed on the tourists.

Not anymore.

“It’s a bit sad. You used to hear the sound of the waves breaking here. Now you don’t hear anything,’ he said.


Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.


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