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Heating up Switzerland at risk of water shortages and forest fires

A river bed

A dried-up river in Ballenbach in Escholzmatt, central Switzerland, on July 18

(Keystone)

While holiday makers in Switzerland are enjoying the current hot spell, the environment is feeling the heat in the form of below-average water levels and a high risk of forest fire. 

St Gallen in northeastern Switzerland on Tuesday became the latest canton to ban making fires in or near forests. Several cantons imposed such a ban last week, but rain over the weekend hasn’t eased the situation in eastern Switzerland. The authorities in canton Thurgau said they had seen only a few drops, justifying a ban that will come into effect on Friday. 

They added that the exceptionally dry spell for this time of year required special measures, saying the topsoil in forests, meadows and fields was very dry, trees were showing symptoms of stress, with discoloured leaves and fruit having to be thrown away. 

A tractor in a field

A dusty field in canton Aargau, northern Switzerland, on July 19

(Keystone)

On Tuesday, St Gallen also imposed a total ban on fireworks on August 1, Swiss National Day. Thurgau had already done this. 

Water shortages 

The public has also been called on to save water, as river and lake levels are considerably below average. Hosepipe bans have not yet been mentioned, but people have been encouraged not to wash their cars, water their gardens or fill private swimming pools. 

The Federal Office for the Environment said the low water levels seen in various smaller and medium-sized rivers was to be expected only every five years. The flow rates of the Aare, Reuss and Limmat – all big rivers – were near their lowest levels for the season. Lake Constance, Lake Lucerne, Lake Zurich and Lake Zug are all at a low level. 

On the German shore of Lake Constance, a landing location for ships can no longer be used owing to the low water level. 

However, the situation is not so serious everywhere in Switzerland: Lake Geneva, Lake Thun and Lake Maggiore are all reporting average water levels for this time of year.

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