The world is grappling with drought. Italy, Australia, the United States, and beyond. The phenomenon is global, and what initially appeared to be a purely climatic and local phenomenon is now expanding to become an economic and social catastrophe just like the one faced by Australia in the early 2000s.
Drought puts at risk the hydrological balance secured by infrastructure (aqueducts, water networks, dams), with an inevitable impact on world economies.
In its “Special Report on Drought,” the United Nations estimates the damage from droughts in the United States of America alone is over $6 billion per year (€5.3 billion). Even more serious is the projected economic impact for the European Union, at €9 billion ($9.2 billion), according to Nature Climate Change. In the case of Australia, the Millennium Drought caused the country’s agricultural productivity to drop by 18% between 2002 and 2010, while the effect of severe drought on India’s gross domestic product is seen at between 2-5% of GDP. The phenomenon affects world economies, and that is why governments are getting organised with responses that are often fragmented and isolated, but nonetheless needed to curb the problem.
Dought in Italy: the last dam in Umbria
In the 1980s, Italy had a plan to build a dam nestled among the green mountains of Umbria. It seemed like an eccentric project, given that the area is full of forests and already rich in water, gushing copiously from hills and mountains. The construction was in the hands of Lodigiani, a company that later merged with Cogefar-Impresit, became Impregilo, and is now part of the Webuild Group.
Forty years have passed since then, but that dam was finally completed in 2022, and the reservoir so far has filled up with 16 million cubic meters of water from the Chiascio River. When fully operational, the reservoir will reach 50 million cubic meters of capacity, with a length of 20 kilometres (12 miles) and a height of 305 metres (1,000 feet) — a level that will also allow for clean and sustainable hydroelectric power generation.
At this point only the last mile is missing, namely the completion of the distribution network that will bring water to a large area of central Umbria from Perugia to Montefalco, some 8,000 hectares of land, water that is now indispensable for agriculture and for the people who live in the small Italian region.
Today the reservoir helps mitigate the tremendous summer drought also because “Green Umbria” itself, now yellowed by the African heat, is not the only region in Italy to suffer water shortages in this terrible 2022. Italy’s largest river, the Po, has been reduced to a stream. This is why Webuild Group launched “Water for Life” in recent days, a plan that calls for the Italian government to invest in the construction of desalination plants capable of creating potable water from seawater.
According to Webuild, the construction of new desalination plants would make it possible to respond in the short term to Italy’s drought problem, a country where today 32% of the population complains of difficulties in accessing drinking water.
Britain's response to drought
Even far north of the Alps, where summers are usually cool and rainy, drought bites. In London, Hyde Park is a scorched steppe. Water is the gold of the new millennium, and dams are now essential for everyone. In Portsmouth, a port city on the English Channel southwest of London, England is about to build its first freshwater dam since the 1980s. With a £100 million (€117 million) investment, the Havant Thicket reservoir resulting from the dam’s construction will be responsible for supplying water for agriculture and housing to the area of southeastern Britain, which in recent years has been hit by a water crisis due to lower rainfall, and now records Mediterranean-like temperatures. Occupying an area of 160 hectares, the reservoir will contain 8.7 billion litres (2.3 billion gallons) with a capacity of 21 million liters per day.
It is a highly sustainable project because the reservoir will be fed in winter by the surplus water from the Havant spring, which today mostly dissipates. In addition, the project includes the construction of a network of bicycle paths, pedestrian and horse trails, as well as the protection of a wild marsh area on the north side that will become a nature reserve.
In America, modern facilities to protect communities
The use of infrastructure to ensure proper water management has always been a prerogative for many American states. One of the most significant examples is the Roosevelt Dam, inaugurated in 1911 and still one of the largest reservoirs for the city of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, which is located in one of the country’s driest areas.
Proper land and water management mitigate the impact of drought. Increased demand for water and extraction from natural and man-made reservoirs for intensive agriculture or ranching, on the other hand, increases vulnerability. The issue is being spotlighted by the terrible drought that is affecting the Colorado River, a strategic reservoir for agricultural crops in as many as seven U.S. states.
The Colorado, like many other U.S. rivers, is now suffering from declining water levels, a problem that the United States has solved with infrastructure works such as the Third Intake of Lake Mead. This is a water withdrawal plant at America’s largest artificial lake, built by the Webuild Group, that guarantees drinking water for the city of Las Vegas despite the drought.
This is one example of an efficient and technological response to a crisis that, now more than ever, has also come knocking on Europe’s door.