Europe’s 4 Major Rivers Are Drying up At The Worst Time Possible

Written by Dayva Segal
Updated: October 10, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Sergey_Fedoskin
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This summer, Europe has seen devastating heat waves along with extreme droughts. The effects of this are drastic. Excess deaths have risen by the thousands over the summer in relation to the heat waves. Full lakes are completely dry, ruining summer recreation and putting entire ecosystems and economies at risk. The continent’s important rivers, which provide water for agriculture and drinking as well as essential waterways for freight shipping, are running dry. Four of the largest rivers in Europe, along with many of their tributaries, are completely dry in places, and in others, are extremely low.

Which Rivers are Drying Up In Europe?

Four of the major rivers that are drying up in Europe are The Danube River, The Rhine River, The Loire River, and The Po River.

The Danube River

The Danube River is over 1,700 miles long.

iStock.com/Sergey_Fedoskin

This is the second longest river in Europe. It is over 1,700 miles long. The Danube River starts at the intersection of two smaller rivers in Southwestern Germany – The Brigach and Brech Rivers. It ends in the Black Sea. This river passes through several countries including:

The Danube River has been important for trade and travel in Europe for thousands of years. It also provides these countries with electric power through hydropower and drinking water.

The Rhine River

Rhine River flows through six different countries

iStock.com/sborisov

The Rhine River starts in Switzerland in Grabünden. It ends in the North Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. The river has a length of 765 miles. It passes through:

The Rhine is an important river for freight delivery. There are important cities such as Cologne, Rotterdam, and Basel that have essential ports for the region.

The Loire River

Loire River is the largest river contained within the borders of France.

iStock.com/Em Campos

The Loire is a river in France that is famous for beautiful historic castles along its shores. It is important for tourism in the area. This river starts in the Massif Central mountains and ends in Saint-Nazaire where it empties into the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic Ocean. It passes through several important cities in France like Nantes, Orléans, and Tours. The river fuels a well-known wine-producing region as well as river boat cruises for tourists who come from all over the globe to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Closer to its mouth, it is also important for freight shipping to get goods into the country.

The Po River

Po River
The Po River is the longest in Italy.

iStock.com/Federico Fermeglia

This is the longest river in Italy. It starts in the Southwestern Alps in an area called the Cottian Alps. The river is over 400 miles long. It starts as a spring in the Val Po and ends at the Adriatic Sea close to Venice. It passes through many well-known Italian cities such as Turin, Piacenza, and Ferrara. The valley surrounding the river is where 35% of Italy’s agricultural products come from. Additionally, 1/3 of the population of Italy lives in this valley. It is also the main area for industrial activities like manufacturing and utilities. The river produces hydroelectric power and is used to cool oil and coal power plants.

How Is the Drought Affecting Europes Important Rivers?

The drought is causing these essential rivers to run dry in places, affecting everything from tourist vacations to industry. For example, in some places on The Loire, you can now walk across the mostly dry river bed whereas before it would have been quite the swim. Tourism in the area is being severely affected. Perhaps more importantly, The Loire River, along with others at risk in France including The Rhône and Garonne Rivers, is used to cool nuclear power plants that account for nearly 3/4 of France’s power. France’s regulatory boards have already approved stretching the rules for the release of heated water into the already warmer than usual water to keep the power plants running.

On The Rhine, shallow water depths below 40 centimeters are preventing the passage of barges that deliver essential items to the area. This will affect the already strained supply chain. When river levels are low, the barges need to carry a lighter load, which they have already been doing. The situation drives up shipping costs which, in turn, drives up the costs of goods, which have already been high lately due to inflation.

If shipping along the Rhine has to stop, the cost is quite high. In 2018, a very bad drought cost Germany about 5 billion Euros when they had to shut down the Rhine to freight traffic for 6 months. The country is trying to divert freight shipping to rail and road freight, but it takes up to 100 trucks to replace the load of one barge. The country is already facing congested railways and a shortage of truck drivers. Plus, the high cost of fuel for trucks will cause the cost of shipping to increase.

In Italy, The Po River is about 6.5 feet lower than usual. The normally agriculturally rich region will suffer. Corn and risotto rice crops have been hit hard by the drought. Rice growers report that over half of their 2022 crop may be destroyed by the drought.

With higher water temperatures comes lower oxygen content in the water. This can kill off fish and other creatures in the water. In the wetlands near Venice that are fed by the Po River, experts believe that up to 1/3 of the clams in the region have died due to this.

In the Danube River, the water temperature hit 25 degrees celsius. If they raise just 1.5 more degrees most or all of the trout in the river would die off. The countries along the Danube are doing their best to improve the situation for freight shipping. Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria have plans to dredge the river. This is a process that helps to improve or maintain the depth of the river to allow for ships to pass. However, it isn’t cheap. For example, in Serbia alone, the cost of dredging the Danube was nearly 30 million Euros.

Overall, this drought could affect economies that are already strained by high inflation and high energy costs due to reducing reliance on Russia for energy. It will also affect the supply chain, which is already stressed from the COVID-19 pandemic, issues in China, and other strains on the system. The timing for this drought could not be worse.

Archeological Remains

The droughts have unearthed historical relics that were long buried. In Serbia, more than 20 long sunken WWII warships were uncovered as water levels receded. Unfortunately, these ships are estimated to contain over 10,000 explosive devices, which may make it more dangerous for ships passing through the region. Experts believe this is a potential for an ecological disaster.

However, on a more positive note, in Spain, the drought has uncovered the Dolmen of Guadraparal. This is a stone circle from 5000 BCE. It has the nickname “The Spanish Stonehenge” and has been covered since the 60s when a dam was built and flooded the region. Also in Spain, a sunken village called Old Portomarín has appeared again.

In Italy along the Tiber River, low bridges from the Roman Empire have been revealed.

The Cause of the European Drought

This drought, which is the worst one in 500 years, is caused by climate change according to many experts. There has been a lack of meaningful rainfall in the region for several months. The high temperatures and low rainfall is caused by changes to the jet stream. Climate change has lessened temperature differences between different areas. When this happens, the jet stream, an important air current that has an effect on weather patterns, becomes unstable. This causes weather patterns, both hot and cold, to stall over the region. So, hot, dry weather stays in place for weeks rather than days as it has in the past.

What is The Outlook?

The UN estimates that by the year 2050, 75% of the world may experience drought conditions, as reported by the World Economic Forum. Climate change continues to cause more extreme weather. Drought frequency has increased by 1/3 according to the UN. Water is going to become more of a precious resource than it already is. Experts believe that conflicts over water and water rights will increase over the next decades, but they also believe that countries that share bodies of water will collaborate to improve conditions for people on both sides of the border. What is clear is that people in Europe and all over the world will have to learn how to adapt to drought and other extreme weather conditions.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer who has been working in the field of content creation and digital marketing for more than seven years. My favorite topics to write about include health, animals, fitness, and nutrition, though as a professional content provider and ghostwriter, I can easily write about pretty much anything! I love all animals and have been some form of vegetarian or vegan for over 10 years. My favorite animals are cats, dogs, and chickens, especially my own cat, Tula.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Which rivers are drying up in Europe?

Four of the major rivers that are drying up in Europe are The Danube River, The Rhine River, The Loire River, and The Po River.

What is the second longest river in Europe?

The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe.

How long is the Danube River?

The Danube River is over 1,700 miles long.

Where does the Danube River start and end?

The Danube River starts at the intersection of two smaller rivers in Southwestern Germany – The Brigach and Brech Rivers. It ends in the Black Sea.

Which countries does the Danube River run through?

The Danube River runs through:

How many countries does The Danube River run through?

The Danube River runs through 10 countries.

Why is the Danube River Important?

It has been important for trade and travel in Europe for thousands of years. It also provides these countries with electric power through hydropower and drinking water.

Where does The Rhine River start and end?

The Rhine River starts in Switzerland in Grabünden. It ends in the North Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.

How long is The Rhine River?

The Rhine River is more than 750 miles long.

Which countries does The Rhine River pass through?

The Rhine River passes through:

 

Why is The Rhine River important?

The Rhine is an important river for freight delivery. There are important cities such as Cologne, Rotterdam, and Basel that have essential ports for the region.

Where does the Loire River start and end?

It starts in the Massif Central mountains and ends in Saint-Nazaire where it empties into the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic Ocean.

Why is The Loire River important?

The Loire River is important for tourism in the Loire Valley. The river fuels a well-known wine-producing region. Closer to its mouth, it is also important for freight shipping to get goods into the country.

What is the longest river in Italy?

The Po River is the longest river in Italy.

How long is the Po River?

The Po river is over 400 miles long.

Where does The Po River start and end?

It starts in the Southwestern Alps in an area called the Cottian Alps. It starts as a spring in the Val Po and ends at the Adriatic Sea close to Venice.

Why is The Po River important?

The valley surrounding the Po River is where 35% of Italy’s agricultural products come from. Additionally, 1/3 of the population of Italy lives in this valley. It is also the main area for industrial activities like manufacturing and utilities. The river produces hydroelectric power and is used to cool oil and coal power plants.

How is drought affecting the Loire River?

The drought is causing essential rivers to run dry. In some places on The Loire, you can now walk across the mostly dry river bed whereas before it would have been quite the swim. Tourism in the area is being severely affected. Perhaps more importantly, The Loire River, along with others at risk in France including The Rhône and Garonne Rivers, are used to cool nuclear power plants that account for nearly 3/4 of France’s power.

 

How is drought affecting The Rhine River?

On The Rhine, shallow water depths below 40 centimeters are preventing the passage of barges that deliver essential items to the area. This will affect the already strained supply chain. When river levels are low, the barges need to carry a lighter load, which they have already been doing. This drives up shipping costs which, in turn, drives up the costs of goods, which have already been high lately due to inflation. If shipping along the Rhine has to stop, the cost is quite high. In 2018, a very bad drought cost Germany about 5 billion Euros when they had to shut down the Rhine to freight traffic for 6 months. The country is trying to divert freight shipping to rail and road freight, but it takes up to 100 trucks to replace the load of one barge. The country is already facing congested railways and a shortage of truck drivers. Plus, the high cost of fuel for trucks will cause the cost of shipping to increase.

 

How is drought affecting The Po River?

In Italy, The Po River is about 6.5 feet lower than usual. The normally agriculturally rich region will suffer. Corn and risotto rice crops have been hit hard by the drought. Rice growers report that over half of their 2022 crop may be destroyed by the drought.

With higher water temperatures comes lower oxygen content in the water. This can kill off fish and other creatures in the water. In the wetlands near Venice that are fed by the Po River, experts believe that up to 1/3 of the clams in the region have died due to this.

 

How is drought affecting The Danube River?

In the Danube River, the water temperature hit 25 degrees celsius. If they raise just 1.5 more degrees most or all of the trout in the river would die off. The countries along the Danube are doing their best to improve the situation for freight shipping. Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria have plans to dredge the river. This is a process that helps to improve or maintain the depth of the river to allow for ships to pass. However, it isn’t cheap. For example, in Serbia alone, the cost of dredging the Danube was nearly 30 million Euros.

How could the drought in Europe affect the economy?

This drought could affect economies that are already strained by high inflation and high energy costs due to reducing reliance on Russia for energy. It will also affect the supply chain, which is already stressed from the COVID-19 pandemic, issues in China, and other strains on the system. The timing for this drought could not be worse.

What is the cause of The European drought?

This drought, which is the worst one in 500 years, is caused by climate change according to many experts. There has been a lack of meaningful rainfall in the region for several months. The high temperatures and low rainfall is caused by changes to the jet stream. Climate change has lessened temperature differences between different areas. When this happens, the jet stream, an important air current that has an effect on weather patterns, becomes unstable. This causes weather patterns, both hot and cold, to stall over the region. So, hot, dry weather stays in place for weeks rather than days as it has in the past.

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Sources
  1. The Guardian, Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/13/europes-rivers-run-dry-as-scientists-warn-drought-could-be-worst-in-500-years
  2. CNBC, Available here: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/23/europe-drought-worst-in-at-least-500-years-eu-report.html
  3. (1970)