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Authorities sound alarm over low water levels

Last year water levels across the country fell as temperatures rose

(Keystone Archive)

The authorities are warning that water in Swiss reservoirs is in even shorter supply than during last year’s heatwave.

On Thursday one regional authority in western Switzerland announced a hosepipe ban in a bid to conserve water supplies.

The restrictions in canton Fribourg – due to come into force next week - will mainly affect farmers who pump ground water for irrigation. The ban applies to water taken from most of the rivers and lakes in the canton.

No limits have been imposed on the use of water in the home, but the cantonal authorities are asking residents to conserve supplies of drinking water.

They also warn that formal restrictions may be necessary if water levels continue to fall.

Still recovering

Experts said that even though the month of June and the first two weeks of July were unseasonably wet in Switzerland, the country’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs were still recovering from last summer’s warm weather.

Swiss reservoirs currently hold less water than at the same time last year – which was two months into the heatwave.

They are running at about 62 per cent of total capacity, compared to 73 per cent in July 2003.

“Groundwater reserves have yet to recover from the drought of the past summer,” said Claude Morzier, canton Fribourg’s senior engineer. “We are concerned about all the waterways in the canton.”

Water levels are also proving to be a concern for the authorities in canton Vaud.

But officials said restrictions were not yet necessary, adding that the situation was under review.

Not enough rain

Gerold Truniger of the Federal Energy Office told swissinfo that the problem could partly be explained by the fact that not enough rain has fallen in the months since last summer’s drought.

He also expressed concern that the reservoirs may not be filled by September, when energy capacity is assessed to ensure that enough power is generated for the winter months.

But Walter Hauenstein, director of the Swiss Association of Water Management, said he was not unduly concerned by current water levels.

“The water level in the reservoirs in canton Valais is certainly less than it was at the end of July last year,” he said, before adding that the situation “could easily stabilise” over the next couple of months.

“You wouldn't even need a huge amount of rain for this to happen,” he said.

Not a record

Over at the Federal Office for Water and Geology, spokesman Daniel Streit said Switzerland was not in the same situation as it was last year and that the shortages were only affecting the French-speaking part of the country.

“The situation is most problematic in western Switzerland, but we’re still not hitting record lows. And it’s very hard to imagine this continuing,” said Streit.

He added that June and the first half of July were not really as wet as they appeared to have been.

“We had very localised storms, with intense but short bouts of rain, which reduced the amount of precipitation.”

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

Key facts

Water levels in Swiss reservoirs are lower than during last year’s record heatwave.
Supplies in reservoirs in canton Valais are well below normal, but the drought that accompanied last summer’s heatwave is not expected.
Electricity, generated by the water in reservoirs, accounts for 60% of the country’s energy requirements.

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