Italy’s salty Po Delta is hurting agriculture, fisheries

PORTO TOLL, Italy (AP) — Drought and unusually hot weather have raised salinity in Italy’s largest delta, where the mighty Po River enters the Adriatic Sea, south of Venice, and it brims with rice fields- It is also killing shellfish which are a major ingredient. In one of Italy’s culinary specialties: spaghetti with clams.

At least a third of the stock of the prized double-valve clam raised in the Po Delta is dead. Plants along the Po River are wilting as they drink water from an increasingly salty aquifer and secondary waterways have dried up, shrinking wetland homes for amphibians and birds.

“It is clear that there is a whole system with an ecology that will have lasting problems,” said Giancarlo Mantovani, director of the Po River Basin Authority. The ecosystem includes the Po Delta Park, which, along with neighboring lands in the Veneto, forms a UNESCO-recognized reserve for its biodiversity.

The amount of water entering the delta from the Po River is at an all-time low, just 95 cubic meters (3,350 cubic feet) last month. , This is one tenth of the annual average. It has been almost two months since farmers were able to harness the river water for agriculture.

The effect could be even more permanent, as saltwater is penetrating distances inland as never before, and is seeping into aquifers, underground layers of rock that can hold water.

And while a delta is by definition an area of ​​exchange between fresh and salt water, the movement is becoming more and more uni-directional: inland penetration of saltwater is two kilometers (just one) in 1960 and 10 kilometers (six). miles) has increased. miles) in the 1980s an astonishing 38 kilometers (about 24 miles) this year.

“The area around Po is three meters below sea level, so there is a constant flow of salt water that is going into the aquifers,” Mantovani said. “So we are creating not only an agricultural problem, a human problem, but also an environmental problem. …it’s the perfect storm.”

For growers of clams, extreme salinity, high temperatures and the resulting proliferation of algae are suffocating the molluscs that are the centerpiece of one of Italy’s favorite dishes in summer: spaghetti ale vongole. And none is more valuable than the Vongol verasi with a striped and oval shell raised in the Adriatic Sea.

“You can see that the clams are infested,” said Catiusia Belan, who has been doing clams for 27 years. “In the afternoon, with this heat, the lagoon dries up. You can pass by tractor here.”

According to the Coldiretti agricultural lobby, this year’s death toll could accelerate if the proper exchange of salt and fresh water is not restored. It blames a failure to remove sediment from the delta, which allows oxygen and fresh water to flow into the lagoon, exacerbating the situation.

Meanwhile, clam farmers, worried that more stocks may die, have reached the market while they still have mollusks to sell. This abundance has driven down prices, creating more economic hardship. “There’s a double negative effect: dying and low prices,” said Alessandro Facioli of Coldiretti.

Nearby rice growers are also seeing an increase in salinity with increasing concern. The trees of the Po delta are a small part of Italy’s national rice production, concentrated in dry-Piedmont and Lombardy, close to the source of the Po River. While large growers are grappling with water shortages in their fields, people in the delta are suffering from increased salt intake, which is killing plants.

Grower Alyssa Moreto, who runs a small family business, hopes to save a third of her crop this year, but that remains to be seen. If it can make a profit it is up to other forces, including rising fuel and fertilizer costs.

But the real concern is for the future, if salinity increases and causes permanent damage to aquifers.

“If that happens, everything dies,” Moreto said.


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