When will Switzerland run out of water?

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When will Switzerland run out of water?
The water levels are dropping. But how scarce is the water really? The federal government and the cantons have no overview - and no emergency plan.

The summer months are getting hotter and hotter. Switzerland has already experienced extreme temperatures in 2003, 2015, 2018 and 2019, with the result that water levels in rivers, lakes and groundwater dropped. Now, another heat wave is once again making the blue gold a rare commodity.

In municipalities from Mendrisio TI to Courtételle JU, it is already forbidden to water the lawn, fill the pool or wash the car. One canton after another prohibits farmers from pumping water from rivers - abrupt reactions to shortages on the ground, hectic and uncoordinated. Each municipality has to see for itself where it stands. And each canton is muddling along on its own.

But how bad is it really? How much water do Swiss households and businesses need? What quantities are available? Will there be enough water until the fall? And if not, are there any emergency plans?

SonntagsBlick asked the federal government and the cantons. The result: Switzerland is managing its water supply blindly. "We can't answer these questions," they say from various offices. "We don't have any figures on that." Not a single canton knows how high its average water consumption is in the dry months, how much water is available in each case and what the current situation is.

A federal muddle

Therefore, no canton can say how tight things will really be this year. And because this information is not available, the federal government also has no overview of the situation in the country. In Bern, one office refers to another - and all together back to the cantons and municipalities.

As early as 2018, center member of the Council of States Beat Rieder (59) demanded a federal report on Switzerland's water supply in a motion, and in 2020 Green member of the Council of States Maya Graf (60) followed suit. But the national government obviously found this unnecessary and took plenty of time. It was not until May 2022 that the report was published: it cautiously hinted that the information on Swiss water supply was not the best. Water management here is a federal muddle, as the SonntagsBlick survey shows. Nobody knows what's going on.

Beat Rieder and Maya Graf are not surprised. "The lack of concern on the part of the authorities probably has to do not least with the image of the eternally gushing Swiss water castle," says Graf. "While there have always been seasonal-local water shortages, hardly anyone expected this to become a nationwide problem." Now, he says, there needs to be a change in thinking: "Water scarcity is a risk for the whole country."

Especially since consumption is increasing: Households, industry, agriculture, tourism, energy suppliers - all want more. "It's an explosive mix," says Rieder. That makes the question all the more important: Who will still get how much water if water levels continue to drop? "There are no rationing plans," the cantons tell us. And the federal government refers to a 2020 ordinance on securing drinking water supplies - which emphasizes that cantons and municipalities must take care of this.

Recommendations are too few
"The basic problem is that the cantons have too little data and control, because the municipalities are responsible," Maya Graf says. "And the federal government has no overview of the cantons. That's why there's no coordinated preparedness planning, just local crisis intervention when things get tight."

For Beat Rieder, it is clear: "Now, large-scale water data must be collected in the municipalities and cantons. In addition, more and larger water reservoirs are needed." But this cannot be done without central management. Rieder also emphasizes: "Just like energy, water supply must also be a federal competence in the event of shortages.

Carlo Scapozza is head of the Hydrology Department at the Federal Office for the Environment. He says, "The Federal Council has recognized the gap regarding data on water consumption." He says the government has initiated the development of a national system for early detection and warning of drought. In addition, the cantons are to determine how much water the population and the economy need and how much is available at all during the dry summer months.

However, these are only recommendations. "In view of the worrying development, this is too little," says Graf. "Not only are the measures too late, they are not strong enough and not mandatory."

It's already clear: The next heat summer is bound to come.


blick.ch, published at 24.07.2022


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