Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels

Some of Switzerland's best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

Climate crisis: Swiss lakes at lowest-ever August levels
A picture taken on August 4, 2022 in Les Brenets shows the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, as much of Europe bakes in a third heatwave since June. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Some of Switzerland’s best-known lakes are at their lowest level ever for August after a dry year so far in 2022, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

At the same time, discharge levels on the Rhine, one of Europe’s major rivers which starts in the Swiss Alps, have never been so low in August since records began.

“There is a low water situation in Switzerland, especially on the central plateau and in the southern part of Ticino,” the country’s southernmost canton, said Michele Oberhansli, from the Federal Office for the Environment’s hydrology division.

READ ALSO: Water flown in by helicopter: How Switzerland has been hit by drought

“The reason for the existing situation is a precipitation deficit in the whole year of 2022, which affects the whole of Switzerland, as well as many other European countries,” she told AFP.

Soil moisture is down across the country and drought is affecting forests and agriculture, she said.

Lakes Constance, Lucerne, Lugano and Walen “are currently recording water levels that have never been so low in an August month since measurements began”, said Oberhansli.

Meanwhile Lakes Zug and Maggiore “continue to show values well below average”.

The shores of Lake Maggiore mark the lowest point in Switzerland, normally at 193 metres above sea level.

READ ALSO: MAP: The Swiss regions in danger of wildfires and the measures in place to avoid them

Except the lakes in the Jura region in the northwest and Lake Thun, the levels of all the other larger Swiss lakes are also below the long-term average.

Rivers down, glaciers melting

Meanwhile many Swiss rivers are recording readings that only occur once every two to 20 years.

“Discharge values on the Reuss and Rhine have never been so low since measurements began in August,” said Oberhansli.

The hydrologist said rain over the coming days should “slightly alleviate” the low water and drought levels, but would “not yet be sufficient to ease the overall situation”.

Following a dry winter, the summer heatwaves hitting Europe have been catastrophic for Switzerland’s Alpine glaciers, which have been melting at an accelerated rate.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Runners take on Swiss glacier race despite melt

A layer of ice — 15 metres thick in 2012 — has covered the Tsanfleuron Pass between two glaciers since at least the Roman era.

But most of it has gone and the ice on the pass will have melted away completely by the end of September, a ski resort said last week.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Winter weather disrupts Swiss rail traffic

Extremely cold weather that hit parts of Switzerland during the night from Thursday to Friday caused technical problems, delays, and train cancellations on some lines.

Winter weather disrupts Swiss rail traffic

As temperatures in some parts of the country plummeted into double digits below zero, train traffic suffered as well, with some lines still impacted by the weather.
The most affected on the Swiss railway network is the Simplon line, which connects Lausanne with Brig (VS), as well as the Romont (FR) -Palézieux (VD) line, where trains were delayed due to frozen train switches.
Swiss Federal Railways (CFF) are working around the clock to repair any breakdowns and get the trains moving again.
“We have teams on alert ready to deploy,” SBB spokesperson Jean-Philippe Schmidt told Swiss media.

In addition, the switches are heated to prevent them from freezing
This is an important measure, Schmidt said, because “this device allows us to avoid total chaos on the network and to restore regular traffic as quickly as possible.”

There is no word yet about how quickly the traffic will return to normal.

From one extreme weather to another

This situation is the opposite of what the SBB experienced in July 2022 during what has been described as the worst heatwave in decades.

At that time, rail traffic was disrupted because the tracks on which the trains and trams run were impacted by high temperatures. causing the so-called “track warping,” when tracks expand, deform, and become a safety hazard.

READ MORE : How the heatwave has impacted train travel in Switzerland