Lago Maggiore approaches critical level

Milan’s canals, agriculture under threat as lake dries up.

Following last year’s dry weather and record temperatures, Lago Maggiore is fast approaching a level at which it will no longer provide water for the canals and irrigation system in and around Milan, say engineers.

Feeding the important 19th-century Villoresi canal as well as Italy’s second largest river, the Ticino, the lake is fast nearing a level at which essential irrigation and hydroelectric plants will be left dry. Among other locations, Milan’s Navigli and the former Expo Milan 2015 area could be affected, along with some 7,000 farms.

Already last July the lack of rainfall had forced engineers to reduce the flow into the Naviglio Grande and the Villoresi canal.

At this time of year, the water surface should be around 1.5 m above the nominal mean level.  But a check this week showed the surface lying 18 cm below the mean – a loss of well over 200 billion litres.

If the level drops to 45 cm below the mean, water will no longer flow from the lake into the river, and unless the rainfall increases, that level could be reached in around a month at the present rate of loss.

Officials are quoted as telling the media that a further problem is the lack of snow in the mountains: currently there is a mere 30 cm of snow at 2,500 m and when it melts it will add only 5 cm to the lake.

But there is also a counter-argument: hoteliers on both sides of the Swiss-Italian border are concerned that any measures to build up the reserves of water in time to cover any summer drought might rob them of the beaches prized by visitors to this popular tourist location.

The Tribunale delle Acque has convened a hearing in March to hear all stakeholders and reach a decision.