Drought in Italy: drought changes Lake Garda

Drought in Italy: drought changes Lake Garda

Dry summers in 2022 and winters with little precipitation – the water level in Lake Garda is very low.

28.02.2023 | 02:15 min

“It’s a bit like walking on water,” says Afra Vorhauser happily after walking across a newly discovered land bridge to the island of San Biagio on Lake Garda. The historic winter drought that has afflicted northern Italy for months has brought a whole new kind of tourism to Lake Garda. This winter, the water level is 60 centimeters below the average level of the past decades.

“It’s a beautiful sight, but sad at the same time because it’s caused by drought,” says Albert Bamburi, who cycled here from nearby Brescia with his wife and two friends. “Hopefully it won’t go on like this for too long,” the 62-year-old added.

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Narrow road to the island

Like Vorhauser and Pampuri, visitors flock on foot or by bike along the narrow path that now connects San Biago Island to the beach. The island, with its cypress trees and white rocky beaches, was only accessible by boat in the past.

The unusual phenomenon is reminiscent of the installation “Floating Piers” by packaging artist Christo, who had yellow fabric-covered piers floating on nearby Lake Iseo in 2016. “But those were artificial bridges, whereas this is a natural work of art,” says the teacher. Agata Carteri, 48 years old.

Christos “floating docks”.What: epa

Five years ago, Matteo Fiore waded into San Biagio with his backpack high over his head. “The water was up to my chest, it was an adventure,” the 45-year-old social worker recalled as he and his family looked out over the land bridge. Everywhere, families picnic on the grass, and kids climb on the rocks on the beach.

A new kind of tourism

“The curiosity to see things that are usually covered by water,” says Paolo Artellio, head of the local tourism agency Vizietgarda, “allows a new kind of tourism.” They include the Caves of Catulus, the ruins of a Roman villa on the Sirmione peninsula, which are now partially exposed thanks to the lowering water level.

The combination of little snow on the surrounding mountains, warm temperatures and six weeks without rain has sent Lake Garda’s water level to its lowest level in 30 years. After a record drought last summer that destroyed crops, warning signs such as falling water levels in the Po River, Lake Maggiore and Lake Como are showing up again in northern Italy. Snow shortage is also a concern for ski resorts.

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But the small community of Manerba del Garda benefits from the new land bridge to San Biagio. “The island has become a popular attraction in the off-season,” says Mayor Flaviano Matteotti. “But if the water levels don’t rise, we’ll have to dredge the ports so that tourist boats can dock. That will be the first time.”

Approximately 28 million tourists visit Lake Garda each year, 40 percent of whom come from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Representatives of the authorities attach importance to the fact that nothing changes for tourists at the moment. Lake Garda is still 136 meters deep on average, says Pierlusio Sirisa, Secretary General of the Federation of Lake Garda Municipalities. Tourists can “surf, sail and swim as they please”. It was “too early to declare a disaster”. If it rains in the coming weeks, “the situation will return to normal.”

Source: Brigitte Hagemann, AFP


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