Little rainfall leaves low water levels in Swiss lakes and rivers

Low water level in Lake Gruyère during an unusually dry spring. Valeriano Di Domenico

After experiencing the warmest winter on record in Switzerland between 2019 and 2020, the early spring season looks set to remain dry. Despite the snow melt, the water levels of some rivers and lakes are already lower than usual, which increases the risk of forest fires.

This content was published on April 20, 2020 - 08:00
Helen James

The Swiss authorities are asking people to remain vigilant when it comes to grilling and fires outdoors. Central and western regions are extremely dry and the southeast of the country has already a ban on outdoor fires.

The precarious situation is due to very little rainfall across the country since mid-March. Also, during the winter months there was minimal snowfall below 1,800 metres.

This scenario is not new to the small Alpine country; a similar situation - little rain and high temperatures - occurred during the same period in 2018, causing the ground to crack with the heat and allowing moisture close to the surface to evaporate.

What followed was an extremely dry summer, which put a great strain on water management and agriculture. For example, cows in the Alps had to be supplied with water by helicopter.

According to reports in the German-language newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), experts are predicting a similar scenario this summer. “The likelihood of sliding into a drought is high,” says Massimiliano Zappa, Head of Hydrological Forecasts at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).

But there is good news: up to now, reported groundwater levels have not been critical.

“Groundwater levels and spring discharges are currently within the normal range for the time of year,” says a spokesman for the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). However, further development depends on the precipitation in the coming weeks. 

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