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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.”)
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.
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.”