Rome’s Water Worries

The Pope ordered that fountains like this one at the Vatican be turned off this week as Rome faces water shortages due to drought. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 25, 2017

The Pope ordered that fountains like this one at the Vatican be turned off this week as Rome faces water shortages due to drought. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 25, 2017

Dear Blog Readers –

My colleagues and I have been dedicating our week to covering the drought in Italy and the problem of water supply for the city of Rome.

It is hard to believe that Rome, a city surrounded by ancient Roman aqueducts, where water flows freely in fabulous fountains, is now struggling to keep water flowing to its citizens.

The remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Acqua Claudia, on the Appian Way on the outskirts of Rome. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

The remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Acqua Claudia, on the Appian Way on the outskirts of Rome. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

The Romans built magnificent aqueducts, feats of engineering, throughout their empire to bring water to villages, towns and cities, filling fountains and public baths.  By the early imperial period (about 100 BC)  they managed to supply clean water to more than a million people.  They took pride in their public works stamping them with the acronym SPQR (Senatus Populus Que Romanus – The Senate and the People of Rome) that still appears on many fountains around the city today.

The Roman SPQR above the fountain on Via Nomentana in Rome bringing water from the Acqua Marcia spring. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

The Roman SPQR above the fountain on Via Nomentana in Rome bringing water from the Acqua Marcia spring. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

Rome has over 2500 “nasone” or “big nosed” fountains which provide free water to the public around the city. Now the city has started turning off some of them.  The Italian Red Cross has complained that turning off the “Nasone” will hurt Rome’s homeless people who have no other source of water for drinking and washing.

My dog Set drinking from a Nasone fountain in a park near our home in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas. July 26, 2017

My dog, Set, drinking from a Nasone fountain in a park near our home in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas. July 26, 2017

Then there are Rome’s famed fountains: The Trevi Fountain, where Marcello Mastroianni tromped in wearing jacket and tie to kiss the voluptuous Anita Ekberg, the Four Rivers Fountain at Piazza Navona, the Barcaccia Fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps, the Fountain of Acqua Paola, also known as the “Fontanone”, made famous in Paolo Sorrentino’s academy award winning film “La Grande Bellezza”- “The Great Beauty”, the Turtle Fountain, the Fountain of the Naiads in Piazza Della Repubblica. The list goes on…

Tourists take pictures in front of the Acqua Paola Fountain, also known as the "Fontanone". Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

Tourists take pictures in front of the Acqua Paola Fountain, also known as the “Fontanone”. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 26, 2017

Thanks to the ancient Romans, Rome and water go together, but global warming is taking its toll here too. This spring has been the driest in 60 years with only 26 rainy days in the past six months compared to 88 in 2016.

Last week the governor of the Lazio region, in which Rome is the biggest city, declared that by this Friday (July 28) the water supply to the city from Lake Bracciano, a volcanic lake 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Rome, would be stopped. The lake is 1.68 meters below its normal water level due to the city siphoning off a huge quantity.

A meterstick in Lake Bracciano showing the water lever has dropped to l.6 meters below normal. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 24, 2017

A meterstick in Lake Bracciano showing the water lever has dropped to l.6 meters below normal. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara. July 24, 2017

On Monday I went with AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara to film the damage to Lake Bracciano. We flew with our colleague, photographer and pilot Chris Warde-Jones, in his plane over the lake to see from above how the water has receded. (See also blog post “High in the Sky Over Lazio.”)

Aerial shot showing receding shores along Lake Bracciano as water continues to be siphoned off for the city of Rome. July 24, 2017. Credit: Chris Warde-Jones

Aerial shot showing receding water and expanding shoreline along Lake Bracciano as water continues to be siphoned off for the city of Rome. July 24, 2017. Credit: Chris Warde-Jones

After our flight, we went down to the lake to talk to people about the damage. I spoke to Grazia Rosa Villani, an activist involved in trying to save the lake, and she told me the water has dropped so low that the ferry boat – the only motorized boat allowed on the lake –can no longer dock at the pier in two of the towns along the shore.

A windsurfer named Gianmarco Sardi told us that he had been coming to the lake for 30 years and never seen it so low. “It is a disaster,” he concluded.

While the governor of Lazio is ready to save the lake, Rome’s water company, ACEA, has warned that if  the supply from Lake Bracciano is cut off, the city will have to start rationing water. Villani explained that the water supply company (ACEA) takes out of 1,100 liters per second (290 gallons per second).

On Tuesday and Wednesday regional officials, water supply company executives and the Mayor of Rome held emergency meetings to find a solution.

Rome Mayor Viriginia Raggi telling reporters that the city is doing everything possible to find new sources of water for the city to protect Lake Bracciano and avoid water rationing. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Paolo Lucariello. July 26, 2017

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi telling reporters that the city is doing everything possible to find new sources of water for the city to protect Lake Bracciano and avoid water rationing. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Paolo Lucariello. July 26, 2017

Italian media said staggered water supply shutdowns could last as long as eight hours daily in alternating neighborhoods effecting 1.5 million people in Rome.  According to the Rome daily “Corriere Della Sera”, plans were to start the rationing in Rome’s neighborhoods that are on hills – Monte Mario and Parioli.

Pope Francis has already ordered the fountains at the Vatican to be left dry. His spokesman, Greg Burke, told us that the Pope is acting in line with his Encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, urging the protection of the earth, avoiding waste and making sacrifices. Burke said that the Pope also wanted to show his “solidarity with the people of Rome.”

 

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

10 Comments

  1. Ciao Chow Linda
    2017/07/27

    The myriad fountains of Rome are one of the city’s major attractions – including all those that you mentioned. I can never leave a visit to Rome without dropping by the turtle fountain. I even bought an oil painting of a nasone by a painter friend of mine who lives in Rome, Kelly Medford, to remind me of what I miss now that I no longer live there. Let’s hope this drought will end soon, if not for this summer, then for next year. Rationing is going to be difficult, I’m sure. Despite global warming and Rome’s problems, we have had so much rain here in New Jersey this spring and summer that everythig looks green and lush. Let’s hope the rain gods will shower Rome with their favors soon.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/07/27

      I agree Linda — the fountains are my favorite part of Rome. I always tell visiting friends that if they do not have enough time, skip the crowds and the lines at the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel and just walk around and visit all the special fountains in Rome. I forgot to mention in the post one of my favorites, the four lions fountain at Piazza del Popolo. Yes, I also hope the rain gods favor Rome soon. I may go out and do a rain dance to see if I can get their attention.

      Reply
  2. Alan
    2017/07/27

    welcome to the world of ‘man-made climate disruption’! Same here in Turkey, not enough rain/snow, aquifers are depleted. Water is a commodity to be exploited along with fossil fuels and the planet can go to hell in a basket. The system cannot be reformed, it has to go – that said, as we’ve already passed the ‘tipping point’ it is too late. The planet will evolve and adjust – most life-forms will not. We are in the sixth great extinction and all anybody seems to do is cry ‘Bring it on!’

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/07/29

      I agree with you Alan…we are all going to hell in a handbasket and it just seems as though everyone (some more than others -i.e. Donald Trump) are saying “bring it on.” Icebergs are melting, seas are rising, and Rome is running out of water…when will be all get a grip and find some solutions!

      Reply
  3. Carina
    2017/07/27

    I wonder what % of the city’s water is used by nasone? And what % of nasone are within say 400 meters of other nasone? Are there plans to use fountains’ grey water somehow? Either back into the fountain or otherwise? In most of the US (other than Cali), water problems are fairly easily solved — lawn watering restrictions (only specified days and hours). Much tougher issue since watering the lawn isn’t exactly a big use in Roma!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/07/29

      Hi Carina — good question on the Nasone. I can’t imagine they are such a huge percentage of the city’s water usage. I also think some of Rome’s fountains have water recycling through them (I should have done a little more research for this post and found those things out!). I think the Romans and Italians in general are very lucky in that they don’t have the “lawn” tradition or habit that Americans have. Private lawns and private swimming pools use up a huge amount of water.

      Reply
  4. Nancy Rockwell
    2017/07/27

    My heart aches for Rome, Trisha! The beautiful fountains were one of my favorite sights in Rome last fall, and it is so sad to think of them not running. Here in Exeter we had the first ever water shortage last summer, with a ban on outside watering (and I am a gardener, and was so sore from lugging huge buckets of water out for flowers. All the lawns went brown. And many people’s wells ran dry. I am on the town water, and there was enough, but we were warned to conserve on laundry, on showers, etc. The drought lasted till winter, when we did have snow, but we all worried right into spring. Our good fortune is that it has been a rainy summer here, and our water reserves are entirely replenished. So there is hope this will happen for Rome.
    But there are parts of the US – California notably, and parts of the south, where water restrictions have been in place for years now, and people no longer have grass lawns, instead, have colored stones and cacti, and a friend’s daughter, who has a baby, by law has to use disposable diapers (no washing). And they must save bath water for doing chores like floor washing, or watering indoor plants.
    All of this is global warming. Meanwhile the seas rise as the icebergs melt, and flood threatens lowlands. And Trump cancels the US participation in the Paris Climate Accord! This is the disaster of our time, and we need to do so much more.
    Here in New England, where there has always been abundant water, green vegetation, wild flowers, endless trees, things may change.
    Thanks for writing about this. Please tell us more, as Rome learns more about what is happening in the mountains, and below the earth in the water reservoirs.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/07/29

      Yes, I have thought a lot about California during this recent drought in Italy. We have had fires all over Italy and that is par for the course in the summers out west. And I do miss the lush New England vegetation when I am here in Italy. This whole global warming business is so discouraging. Why are we – humans – so capable at destroying and so bad at repairing. Sigh!!

      Reply
  5. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/07/29

    Hi Trisha,
    I’m all for the rain dance if it will help. I won’t join you, but I’d sure like to send you and Rome some of the excess rain we have had in this area of northern Illinois! I heard first about the nasone and then about the Vatican fountains. I once spent some of my time in Rome trying to find all the fountains described in one of my favorite “Rome books,” called ” The Fountains of Rome.”. This is by H. V. Morton and out of print when I bought it quite a while ago. I didn’t find them all, but enjoyed the search and found the majority. I will hope and pray and maybe even dance so that the waters will be back when I arrive in Rome December 20.
    A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/07/29

      Hi Joan — do send a little of your rain our way…and yes, join me in my rain dance. Yesterday I interviewed someone from the National Farmer’s lobby, Coldiretti, who told me a lot of interesting things about what and who this drought is damaging. He said crops like wheat and sunflowers have been hit very badly. He said “foraggi”, which I guess would be translated “fodder” for animals has been damaged (perhaps he meant grass, hay) and farm animals are producing 20 percent less milk as a result. He said that juicy fruits and vegetables — like peaches and tomatoes — are doing very well in the heat, but will be ripe much sooner (now!) and are selling for a much lower price as farmers want to make money while they can. He said grapes do very well in this kind of intense heat with little rain so the wines that come out this year should be very good, but there will be less. It was all very interesting. The worse off he said are farmers in Sardinia who have lost the crops altogether due to a total lack of water.

      Reply

Leave a Reply