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

A view of the peninsula of Sirmione (AP)
A view of the peninsula of Sirmione (AP)

Italy’s worst drought in decades has reduced Lake Garda, the country’s largest lake, close to its lowest level ever recorded.

The receding water has exposed swathes of previously submerged rocks, with the lake having been warmed to temperatures that approach the average in the Caribbean Sea.

Tourists flocking to the popular northern lake for the start of Italy’s key summer long weekend found a vastly different landscape than in previous years.

Italy Lake Garda Drought
The peninsula of Sirmione, on Lake Garda (AP)

An expansive stretch of bleached rock extended far from the normal shoreline, ringing the southern Sirmione Peninsula with a yellow halo between the green hues of the water and the trees on the shore.

Tourist Beatrice Masi said: “We came last year, we liked it, and we came back this year.

“We found the landscape had changed a lot. We were a bit shocked when we arrived because we had our usual walk around, and the water wasn’t there.”

Northern Italy has not seen rainfall for months, and snowfall this year was down 70%, drying up important rivers like the Po, which flows across Italy’s agricultural and industrial heartland.

Many European countries, including the UK, Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands, are enduring droughts this summer, prompting authorities to restrict water use.

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

Lake Garda Drought
The water level has dropped critically following severe drought (AP)

To compensate, authorities allowed more water from Lake Garda to flow out to local rivers – 70 cubic metres (2,472 cubic feet) of water per second.

But in late July, they reduced the amount to protect the lake and the financially important tourism tied to it.

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

Garda mayor Davide Bedinelli said he had to protect both farmers and the tourist industry.

He insisted that the summer tourist season was going better than expected, despite cancellations, mostly from German tourists, during Italy’s latest heatwave in late July.

“Drought is a fact that we have to deal with this year, but the tourist season is in no danger,” Mr Bendinelli wrote in a July 20 Facebook post.

Lake Garda Drought
Rocks which are typically submerged have appeared at certain spots on the tourist destination (AP)

He confirmed the lake was losing two centimetres (.78in) of water a day.

The lake’s temperature, meanwhile, has been above average for August, according to seatemperature.org.

On Friday, the Garda’s water was nearly 26C, several degrees warmer than the average August temperature of 22C and nearing the Caribbean Sea’s average of around 27C.

For Mario Treccani, who owns a lakefront concession of beach chairs and umbrellas, the lake’s expanded shoreline means fewer people are renting his chairs since there are now plenty of rocks on which to sunbathe.

“The lake is usually a metre or more than a metre higher,” he said.

Pointing to a small wall that usually blocks the water from the beach chairs, he recalled that on windy days, sometimes waves from the lake would splash up onto the tourists. Not any more.

“It is a bit sad. Before, you could hear the noise of the waves breaking up here. Now, you don’t hear anything,” he said.