Hydroelectric power production in Italy has fallen since the start of the year due to a severe drought that is causing water restrictions and threatening agriculture, sector professionals said on Friday.

Hydroelectric facilities, mostly located in the mountain ranges in the north of the country, provide nearly 20% of Italy’s energy production.

But the lack of rain is having consequences that are already visible, as Europe experiences a heat wave and Rome tries to shake off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

“From January to May 2022, hydroelectric production fell by around 40% compared to the same period in 2021,” a spokesperson for Utilitalia, a federation of water supply companies, told GLM.

“Hydroelectric production has been steadily declining since July 2021,” he added, pointing to “serious water shortages, even at high altitudes.”

According to estimates for the first half of 2022, hydroelectric production nationwide will be almost halved compared to the same period in 2021, a professional source in the sector told AFP.

On June 21, a power station southeast of Milan was shut down indefinitely due to low levels of the Po river that feeds it, energy company Enel said.

“Given the drought, other hydroelectric plants are not operating at full capacity,” added a spokesperson, without further details.

The Po is Italy’s longest river and its main reservoir of fresh water. Much of this water is used by farmers, but the Po plain and the north of the peninsula in general are hit by the worst drought in 70 years.

According to the largest agricultural union in Italy Coldiretti, the drought threatens more than 30% of national agricultural production, and half of the farms in the Po plain, where Parma ham is produced in particular.

In Piedmont (north-west), water is rationed in more than 200 municipalities, according to the Ansa news agency.

Lakes Maggiore and Lake Garda are showing water levels below normal for this time of year, while further south the level of the Tiber which flows through Rome has also dropped.

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