The Czech Republic is drying up


The Czech Hydrological Institute has issued a warning that groundwater levels as well as river levels are falling to dangerously low levels across the country, with some places such as areas around the rivers Berounka, Litavka and Sázava faring the worst. In some cases, levels are down to 20 percent of normal levels. Dominik Jun spoke with Jan Daňhelka, head of the Hydrological Forecasting Department at the Czech Hydrological Institute to find out more. He began by asking him to describe just how bad he thought the situation was in the Czech Republic:

“Well, the situation is not as bad when compared to the historical records we have. Compared to the 2003 drought, which was the biggest one since the 70s or 80s, we are still doing relatively well. However, compared to last year, when we also had a drought, we are approaching approximately similar levels in terms of both ground and surface water.”

And what exactly is causing these problems with ground and river levels?

“Generally, I think the main cause is the character of the precipitation we are getting. This occurs mostly in flash-floods or short-term storms, and the water from these usually flows over the ground and does not penetrate or percolate into the ground and refill the aquifers and reservoirs of underground water.”

So, simply put – changing weather patterns are to blame?

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“Yes. The character of the weather, bringing only short-term storms together with very high temperatures which cause high evapo-transpiration and quite significant water loss are causing the current situation.”

And what kinds of problems is this causing? Are farmers having problems with their crops and so on?

“The situation differs quite significantly across the Czech Republic. There are areas where farming has been affected significantly – mostly Central Bohemia and Southern Moravia – as these are quite significant crop production areas. On the other hand, the major effects of drought do not occur on the top levels of the soil, but rather in underground and surface water. So it is not only about crop and agriculture production but also about, for example, navigation along the lower Elbe river and the flow of that river itself.”

Everyone remembers that several years ago, the Czech Republic suffered severe floods, particularly Prague and parts of Moravia. Now we seem to have the opposite. Is this related to global climate change?

“It is hard to connect those floods with climate change, but if the climate does change, then droughts are something that we should expect to see more often in the future – there is no doubt about that.”

What is the prognosis for the future? Are we looking at prolonged dry summers; will the Czech Republic be growing citrus fruits in the next ten years?

“I don’t think that the crops here will be changed to Mediterranean types. The precipitation levels should stay about the same, but the character of the rainfall is what will change and we are seeing that right now. That means longer periods without rainfall, and higher temperatures causing the drying of soil and decreasing water levels both underground and on the surface. And also more intensive short storms causing flash-floods. So these are the projections which could occur if the climate-change scenario plays out the way it has been simulated.”

And is there anything that both the public and the government can or should do to address these kinds of issues?

"I don’t think we can mitigate it, but we can adapt to it. One thing to do is to use the water we have carefully, because the Czech Republic is not a country with huge supplies of water. So more efficient use of water is one way to deal with the expected climate changes in the Czech Republic and in central Europe.”