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  • Writer's pictureAlex Subrizi

Water troubles

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Relative to historical averages, rainfall in the Chianti fiorentino (the part of rural Tuscany we are situated in) is down around 65% this year. It's the driest it's been since 2003, and, for the first time since then, just this morning, we hired a 35-ton water truck to pour 22.500 liters into Poggiosole's underground cisterns.

Regionally, the situation is not (yet) alarming: the largest of the reservoirs from which metropolitan Florence draws its drinking water is nearly at capacity. But local growers, and a few homesteads that rely entirely on well water, are in distress. At Poggiosole we have two wells on our land, one primary and another we use as a backup. Our primary well stopped producing significant water about one month ago; a glitch in our irrigation system worsened the situation in our cisterns, which have a combined capacity of 30.000 liters. Over the weekend we activated our backup well in the hope it would yield sufficient water to tide us over to significant rainfall (rare in July or August) and avoid having to truck in 22 tons of the stuff. But our backup well delivered less than 400 liters before sputtering to a stop. So on Saturday afternoon, shortly after reading a troubling article about flooding in northeast India and Bangladesh, I confirmed the water truck.

We use well water primarily for irrigation, and our rose bushes and cherry trees have been the first to feel the pinch. Olive trees are drought resistant but even they can't go for months without a sip. While our drinking water has not been at risk of rationing or interruption this go-round it's hard not to construe this four-or-five-a-century event as a sign of dryer times to come. Tuscany has a Mediterranean climate characterized by rainy winters and dry summers. With four months to go before autumn, the solid blue which served as a backdrop to the above image feels ominous indeed. Today's was the first water truck my son Sam had ever seen up close. It's not likely to be the last.

Postscript, July 5: as if on cue, within 24 hours of my exchange with (see post comments) The Economist's "Espresso" mobile edition offered these two items in sequence on its news summary page:

The contrast is striking.

Post-postscript, July 7: I had to call in another water truck today. Still no rain and our wells can't keep up. On the plus side, we found and plugged two leaks in our irrigation system and thunderstorms are forecast for this evening.

Final update, July 21: two more visits by the water truck since July 7th: one on the 12th, another this morning. The 5-day interval between the 7th and the 12th had us tighten our irrigation timing and shut down two irrigation sectors (of nine) entirely. Now we are "hoping" to continue with a delivery of 22.500 liters every 10 days or so, through what remains of the summer. Our swimming pool alone evaporates around 150 liters of water each day. The aforementioned thunderstorms did indeed materialize, and the rainfall was gloriously heavy that evening, but lasted a scant 15 minutes: hardly enough and nothing since then.

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Jul 03, 2022

Thank you, Alex, for reporting the troubles this drought challenge causes. Given that climate change usually comes along with boring statistics (my clients rarely can imagine what “1.5 degrees“ does mean in the end, and frankly, I cannot do so with all the aspects attached, as well), we need to tell each other stories like this. Let’s hope for the best - that we can avoid making water trucks an everyday day experience for Sam, and, at least, that there will always be one available whenever we need one. Water is life.

Unknown member
Jul 04, 2022
Replying to

Thank you Stefan. What's striking, taking a more global view, is the imbalance of recent weather patterns (unless one considers them an indication of a "new normal"). In the post I mention the flooding and loss of life in NE India and Bangladesh as a counterpoint to the current Tuscan drought, but the rich world is used to hearing tales of woe from those regions. The situation in Sydney, Australia, where extreme levels of rainfall have been making headlines since 2018, surely underscores the fact that climate change is not just a "problem of the developing world".

Rather it's a problem that's rapidly developing in the entire world.

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