Lake Garda in Italy drops to historically low levels after heat wave

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Italy’s worst drought in decades has plunged the largest body of water, Lake Garda, to near-historically low levels, exposing portions of underwater rocks and raising water temperatures close to those in the Caribbean Sea.

Tourists who flocked to the popular vacation spot this weekend were presented with a strange sight upon arrival.

Rather than being greeted by Garda’s beautiful natural coastline, vacationers instead arrived to find a vast stretch of bleached rock that surrounds the southern Sirmione peninsula.

“We came last year, we liked it, and we came back this year,” tourist Beatrice Masi said as she sat on the rocks.

‘We noticed that the landscape had changed a lot. We were a little shocked when we arrived as we had our usual walk and the water wasn’t there.’

Northern Italy has been torn apart for months by intense heatwaves, with a complete lack of rain and up to 70% less snowfall in winter, almost completely drying up important rivers such as the Po, which flow through much of Italy’s agricultural land.

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 offset the losses, Italian authorities allowed reserves from nearby Lake Garda to drain into local rivers — 70 cubic meters (2,472 cubic feet) of water per second.

A view of the Sirmione peninsula, on Lake Garda, Italy, Friday, August 12, 2022. The water level of Lake Garda has fallen critically due to severe drought, causing rocks to emerge around the Sirmione peninsula.  (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

View of the Sirmione peninsula, on Lake Garda (Photo: AP)

A woman takes a selfie on the Sirmione peninsula, on Lake Garda, Italy, Friday, August 12, 2022. The water level of Lake Garda has fallen critically after severe drought, causing rocks to appear around the Sirmione peninsula.  (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

A woman takes a selfie on the Sirmione peninsula on Lake Garda after water levels plunge to their lowest level in decades (Photo: AP)

People watch the lake from the Sirmione Peninsula, on Lake Garda, Italy, Friday, August 12, 2022. Lake Garda's water level has fallen critically after severe drought, causing rocks to emerge around the Sirmione Peninsula.  (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Lake Garda’s water reserves were drained to help nearby rivers flow after months of drought (Photo: AP)

But in late July, after the lake’s water levels dropped close to the record depths of 2003 and 2007, the amount of water exported was reduced to protect the lake and the financially important tourism associated with it.

While the country has seen some rain in recent months, it was not enough to make up for the losses, prompting the decision.

Garda mayor Davide Bedinelli said he had to protect both farmers and the tourist industry, stressing that despite the cancellations of German tourists during the latest heat wave in July, the summer season was going better than expected.

“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.

People sunbathe on the Sirmione peninsula, on Lake Garda, Italy, Friday, August 12, 2022. The water level of Lake Garda has fallen critically due to severe drought, which has caused rocks to emerge around the Sirmione peninsula.  (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Lake Garda water levels have fallen critically due to severe droughts, causing rocks to emerge around the Sirmione peninsula (Photo: AP)

The temperature of the lake has also risen. On Friday, Garda’s waters were nearly 26°C, a few degrees warmer than the August average of 22°C and close to the 27°C average in the Caribbean Sea.

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 little sad. You used to hear the sound of the waves breaking here. Now you don’t hear anything,’ he said.

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