Italy’s salty Po Delta hurting agriculture, fisheries

Aug 2, 2022, 3:18 AM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 12:30 am
Fishers work gathering clams in Pila, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea which the Po River feeds into, ear...

Fishers work gathering clams in Pila, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea which the Po River feeds into, early Friday, July 29, 2022. Drought and unusually hot weather have raised the salt levels in Italy's largest delta. It's killing rice fields along with the shellfish that are a key ingredient in one of Italy's culinary specialties. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

PORTO TOLLE, Italy (AP) — Drought and unusually hot weather have raised the salinity in Italy’s largest delta, where the mighty Po River feeds into the Adriatic Sea south of Venice, and it’s killing rice fields along with the shellfish that are a key ingredient in one of Italy’s culinary specialties: spaghetti with clams.

At least one-third of the stock of prized double-valve clams raised in the Po Delta have died off. Plants along the banks of the Po River are wilting as they drink in water from increasingly salty aquifers and secondary waterways have dried up, shrinking amphibians and birds’ wetland homes.

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

The amount of water entering the delta from the Po River is at an all-time low, hitting just 95 cubic meters (3,350 cubic feet) a second last month, due to drought conditions caused by a lack of wintertime snowpack and spring and summer rains. That is one-tenth of annual averages. It has been nearly two months since farmers have been able to tap the river water for agriculture.

The impact may be even more lasting, as saltwater is leaching inland distances never before recorded, and seeping into aquifers, underground layers of rock that can hold water.

And while deltas are by definition an area of exchange between fresh and salt water, the movement is becoming more and more one-directional: Inland penetration of saltwater has increased from two kilometers (just over a mile) in the 1960s and 10 kilometers (six miles) in the 1980s to an astounding 38 kilometers (nearly 24 miles) this year.

“The territory around the Po is three meters below sea level, therefore there is a continual flow of saline water that is going into the aquifers,” Mantovani said. “We are therefore not only creating an agricultural problem, a human problem, but also an environmental problem. … This is a perfect storm.”

For growers of clams, excessive salinity, high temperatures and the resulting spread of algae are suffocating the mollusk that is the centerpiece of one of summertime Italy’s favorite dishes: Spaghetti alle vongole. And none are more prized than the vongole veraci with a striped and grooved shell that are raised in the Adriatic Sea.

“You can see the clams are suffering,” said Katisucia Bellan, who has been clamming for 27 years. “In the afternoon, with this heat, the lagoon dries up. You can pass with the tractor here.”

According to the Coldiretti agricultural lobby, this year’s die-off could accelerate if the proper exchange of salt and fresh water is not restored. It blames the failure to remove sediment from the delta, which allows oxygen and fresh water into the lagoon, for aggravating the situation.

Meanwhile, clam farmers worried that more stock could die have rushed to market while they still have mollusks to sell. This abundance has forced down prices, creating more economic hardship. “There is a double negative effect: die-off and lower prices,” said Coldiretti’s Alessandro Faccioli said.

Nearby rice growers also are watching the rise of salinity with increasing anxiety. The paddies of the Po Delta are a small part of Italy’s national rice production, which is centered in drought-stricken Piedmont and Lombardy closer to the source of the Po River. While the bigger producers are suffering from a lack of water in their fields, those in the delta are suffering the increased salt content, which is killing off plants.

Grower Elisa Moretto, who runs a small family business, hopes they can salvage one-third of their crop this year, but that remains to be seen. If she can eke a profit is up to other forces, including increased fuel and fertilizer costs.

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

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


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A man receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Jabra Hospital in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursd...
Associated Press

Nonprofits launch $100M plan to support local health workers

A new philanthropic project hopes to invest $100 million in 10 countries, mostly in Africa, by 2030 to support 200,000 community health workers, who serve as a critical bridge to treatment for people with limited access to medical care. The Skoll Foundation and The Johnson & Johnson Foundation announced Monday that they donated a total […]
4 hours ago
The cargo ship Polarnet arrives to Derince port in the Gulf of Izmit, Turkey, Monday Aug. 8, 2022. ...
Associated Press

Ship carrying grain from Ukraine arrives in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (AP) — The first of the ships to leave Ukraine under a deal to unblock grain supplies and stave off a potential global food crisis arrived at its destination in Turkey on Monday. The Turkey-flagged Polarnet docked at Derince port in the Gulf of Izmit after setting off from Chornomorsk on Aug. 5 laden […]
4 hours ago
A person walks by a SoftBank shop on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Tokyo. Japanese technology company So...
Associated Press

Japan tech giant SoftBank posts $23 billion quarterly loss

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese technology company SoftBank Group posted a $23.4 billion loss in the April-June quarter as the value of its investments sank amid global worries about inflation and interest rates. SoftBank Group Corp.’s loss of 3.16 trillion yen was a reversal from its 762 billion yen profit in the same quarter a year […]
4 hours ago
Exterior damage from a fire is seen at the Mountain B pub in the Sattahip district of Chonburi prov...
Associated Press

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

BANGKOK (AP) — The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he was brought to court Monday to hear criminal charges against him. Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district […]
4 hours ago
Associated Press

Productivity, consumer prices, Cardinal Health earns

A look at some of the key business events and economic indicators upcoming this week: ECONOMIC BELLWETHER Economists project that U.S. worker productivity fell in the April-June period for the second consecutive quarter. The Labor Department is expected to report Tuesday that nonfarm labor productivity fell in the second quarter at an annual rate of […]
4 hours ago
Liudmila Samsonova, of Russia, poses with the trophy after she won the final at the Citi Open tenni...
Associated Press

Russian tennis players collect 3 titles at US Open tuneups

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was quite a week for Russia’s professional tennis players — four tournaments, three titles. One of them, Liudmila Samsonova, thinks it might not be merely a coincidence that this recent run of success for her, Daria Kasatkina and Daniil Medvedev comes shortly after they were banned from competing at Wimbledon because […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Italy’s salty Po Delta hurting agriculture, fisheries