Italy’s salty Po Delta hurting agriculture, fisheries




PORTO TOLLE, Italy — Drought and unusually sizzling climate have raised the salinity in Italy’s largest delta, the place the mighty Po River feeds into the Adriatic Sea south of Venice, and it’s killing rice fields together with the shellfish which might be a key ingredient in certainly one of Italy’s culinary specialties: spaghetti with clams.

At least one-third of the inventory of prized double-valve clams raised within the Po Delta have died off. Plants alongside the banks of the Po River are wilting as they drink in water from more and more salty aquifers and secondary waterways have dried up, shrinking amphibians and birds’ wetland properties.

“It is evident that there is an entire system with an ecology that will have permanent problems,’’ said Giancarlo Mantovani, director of Po River Basin Authority. The ecosystem includes the Po Delta Park, which along with neighboring lands in Veneto form a reserve recognized by UNESCO for its biodiversity.

The amount of water entering the delta from the Po River is at an all-time low, hitting just 95 cubic meters (3,350 cubic feet) a second last month, due to drought conditions caused by a lack of wintertime snowpack and spring and summer rains. That is one-tenth of annual averages. It has been nearly two months since farmers have been able to tap the river water for agriculture.

The impact may be even more lasting, as saltwater is leaching inland distances never before recorded, and seeping into aquifers, underground layers of rock that can hold water.

And while deltas are by definition an area of exchange between fresh and salt water, the movement is becoming more and more one-directional: Inland penetration of saltwater has increased from two kilometers (just over a mile) in the 1960s and 10 kilometers (six miles) in the 1980s to an astounding 38 kilometers (nearly 24 miles) this year.

“The territory around the Po is three meters below sea level, therefore there is a continual flow of saline water that is going into the aquifers,’’ Mantovani said. “We are therefore not only creating an agricultural problem, a human problem, but also an environmental problem. … This is a perfect storm.”

For growers of clams, extreme salinity, excessive temperatures and the ensuing unfold of algae are suffocating the mollusk that’s the centerpiece of certainly one of summertime Italy’s favourite dishes: Spaghetti alle vongole. And none are extra prized than the vongole veraci with a striped and grooved shell which might be raised within the Adriatic Sea.

“You can see the clams are suffering,’’ said Katisucia Bellan, who has been clamming for 27 years. “In the afternoon, with this heat, the lagoon dries up. You can pass with the tractor here.”

According to the Coldiretti agricultural foyer, this 12 months’s die-off might speed up if the right change of salt and contemporary water is just not restored. It blames the failure to take away sediment from the delta, which permits oxygen and contemporary water into the lagoon, for aggravating the state of affairs.

Meanwhile, clam farmers anxious that extra inventory might die have rushed to market whereas they nonetheless have mollusks to promote. This abundance has pressured down costs, creating extra financial hardship. “There is a double damaging impact: die-off and decrease costs,’’ stated Coldiretti’s Alessandro Faccioli stated.

Nearby rice growers are also watching the rise of salinity with rising anxiousness. The paddies of the Po Delta are a small a part of Italy’s nationwide rice manufacturing, which is centered in drought-stricken Piedmont and Lombardy nearer to the supply of the Po River. While the larger producers are affected by an absence of water of their fields, these within the delta are struggling the elevated salt content material, which is killing off vegetation.

Grower Elisa Moretto, who runs a small household enterprise, hopes they’ll salvage one-third of their crop this 12 months, however that is still to be seen. If she will be able to eke a revenue is as much as different forces, together with elevated gasoline and fertilizer prices.

But the actual fear is for the longer term, if salinity rises and causes everlasting harm to the aquifers.

“If that occurs, every little thing dies,’’ Moretto stated.

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