Band Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
LATINA, Italy, July 19 (Reuters) – Vast tracts of land south of Rome were swamp marshes for thousands of years until a monumental drainage program in the 1930s turned the malaria-ridden marshes into prime agricultural fields.
Fast forward 90 years and where water was once plentiful, it is now becoming scarce as one of the worst droughts in living memory, fueled by weeks of scorching temperatures, has drastically reduced the flow of local springs .
But aging infrastructure and leaky pipes are making an already dire situation worse, with a lot of precious water evaporating in the sewers before it even reaches the taps.
“The management of water infrastructure in Italy is appalling,” Roberto Cingolani, Minister for Ecological Transition, told Reuters. “Our pipes lose an average of 42% of the water they carry. In Israel, this figure is closer to 3%. Our losses cannot be justified.
In the province of Latina, 60 km (37 miles) along the coast from Rome, 70% of drinking water is lost in transit, the second worst ratio in the country, according to a report published this month by the Confartigianato business lobby.
Latina’s local water company, Acqualatina, says some of the missing water is illegally siphoned off, or consumed by households who refuse to let their meters be checked. But an estimated 50-60% dissipates from brittle and cracked pipes.
“The leaks are not caused by negligence, but because the network is really old. Almost half of it was laid more than 50 years ago,” said Marco Lombardi, CEO of the company, which is partly owned by the French public service Veolia. Environment.
The company, established in 2002, carries out more than 10,000 repairs a year on its 3,500km network, plugging myriad holes to relieve low water pressure that can ravage homes and businesses. But this often causes decrepit pipes elsewhere on the network to burst, turning repairs into a game of molesting.
In an effort to counter what is a national crisis, the government has earmarked 4.4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) from a European Union pandemic recovery fund to be used over the next four years to improve water management.
Some 900 million euros will go to repairing water leaks and 880 million will help modernize irrigation systems for agriculture.
Money doesn’t come soon enough for Stefano Boschetto, who runs a family farm in the fertile plains of Latina.
He has invested millions of euros in greenhouses, where he grows kiwis, salads, cucumbers and melons. But her crops are suffering from drought and the resulting water rationing, which interrupts irrigation two days a week.
“It seems strange that we are talking about a lack of water in an area like this. But in reality things are changing, and they are changing rapidly,” he said.
The main problem was a reduction in water from springs in the area, but faulty pipes were also taking their toll. Additionally, Boschetto said the sector is missing out by not capturing rain, which is often torrential in the spring and fall, and then recycling it during the arid summer months.
The government estimates that capturing a quarter of Italy’s annual rainfall would cover the needs of the country’s farmers and plans to use some of the EU money to build dozens of reservoirs to store the waters of runoff.
Local drinking water company Acqualatina has also turned to the EU fund for help, asking for 40 million euros to finance some of its own modernization projects. But he acknowledges that this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.
“To completely redo our entire network would cost 1 billion euros,” said CEO Lombardi, adding that his company had invested nearly 300 million euros in infrastructure projects over the past 20 years.
LOW RATES, HIGH USE
Much of the investment in Italy’s water supply system is funded by revenues from utility companies, which come from some of the lowest tariffs in Europe, limiting funding opportunities.
Italians pay on average just 2 euros per cubic meter of water, according to data from the European Federation of Water Associations. Households in neighboring France pay double, while in Denmark the cost is 9.32 euros.
Unsurprisingly, household water consumption in Italy is the highest in the EU, totaling nearly 250 liters per person per day. In France the figure is 150 liters while in Denmark it is only 105 litres.
Antonio Terra, the mayor of Aprilia, Latina, has urged his citizens to reduce their water usage as the drought rages, threatening fines for people using fresh water to fill their swimming pools, clean cars or water gardens.
But the city’s old sewers complicate life.
“We could actually put more water in the system, but we can’t pump it out at the right pressure because we have to prevent the pipes from bursting,” he told Reuters.
For farmer Boschetto, such headaches could have been avoided, if only the authorities had acted years ago.
“As a country we are always waiting for things to fall apart and only then do we organize ourselves,” he said. “But if things were done upstream, with clear ideas, we wouldn’t always have this feeling that we’re going to the ground.”
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(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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