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Italy's Lake Garda at Near-Historic Low08/13 09:15


   SIRMIONE Italy (AP) -- Italy's worst drought in decades has reduced Lake 
Garda, the country's largest lake, to near its lowest level ever recorded, 
exposing swaths of previously underwater rocks and warming the water to 
temperatures that approach the average in the Caribbean Sea.

   Tourists flocking to the popular northern lake Friday for the start of 
Italy's key summer long weekend found a vastly different landscape than in past 
years. An expansive stretch of bleached rock extended far from the normal 
shoreline, ringing the southern Sirmione Peninsula with a yellow halo between 
the green hues of the water and the trees on the shore.

   "We came last year, we liked it, and we came back this year," tourist 
Beatrice Masi said as she sat on the rocks. "We found the landscape had changed 
a lot. We were a bit shocked when we arrived because we had our usual walk 
around, and the water wasn't there."

   Northern Italy hasn't seen significant rainfall for months, and snowfall 
this year was down 70%, drying up important rivers like the Po, which flows 
across Italy's agricultural and industrial heartland. Many European countries, 
including Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Britain, are 
enduring droughts this summer that have hurt farmers and shippers and promoted 
authorities to restrict water use.

   The parched condition of the Po, Italy's longest river, has already caused 
billions of euros in losses to farmers who normally rely on it to irrigate 
fields and rice paddies.

   To compensate, authorities allowed more water from Lake Garda to flow out to 
local rivers -- 70 cubic meters (2,472 cubic feet) of water per second. But in 
late July, they reduced the amount to protect the lake and the financially 
important tourism tied to it.

   With 45 cubic meters (1,589 cubic feet) of water per second being diverted 
to rivers, the lake on Friday was 32 centimeters (12.6 inches) above the water 
table, near the record lows in 2003 and 2007.

   Garda Mayor Davide Bedinelli said he had to protect both farmers and the 
tourist industry. He insisted that the summer tourist season was going better 
than expected, despite cancellations, mostly from German tourists, during 
Italy's latest heat wave in late July.

   "Drought is a fact that we have to deal with this year, but the tourist 
season is in no danger," Bendinelli wrote in a July 20 Facebook post.

   He confirmed the lake was losing two centimeters (.78 inches) of water a day.

   The lake's temperature, meanwhile, has been above average for August, 
according to On Friday, the Garda's water was nearly 26 
degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), several degrees warmer than the 
average August temperature of 22 C (71.6 F) and nearing the Caribbean Sea's 
average of around 27 C (80 F).

   For Mario Treccani, who owns a lakefront concession of beach chairs and 
umbrellas, the lake's expanded shoreline means fewer people are renting his 
chairs since there are now plenty of rocks on which to sunbathe.

   "The lake is usually a meter or more than a meter higher," he said from the 

   Pointing to a small wall that usually blocks the water from the beach 
chairs, he recalled that on windy days, sometimes waves from the lake would 
splash up onto the tourists.

   Not anymore.

   "It is a bit sad. Before, you could hear the noise of the waves breaking up 
here. Now, you don't hear anything," he said.

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