Warsaw, Poland – According to experts, Poland risks a serious water crisis in the coming years as hundreds of rivers are drying up little by little in the country. With climate change, more frequent droughts and only brief and often violent rainstorms, the situation is reaching a critical threshold.
“I can’t remember water levels being as low as what we’ve seen in recent years, it’s tragic”, says 85-year-old fisherman Tadeusz Norberciak to AFP. “Further north, it’s even worse, the Vistula looks like puddles”.
Poland, European desert
Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (NIK) recently recently published a report titled “Poland, European Desert”, in which it warned that there is only 1,600 cubic metres of water available for each Pole per year, only slightly more than the EU average.
“Our (water) resources are comparable to those of Egypt,” claims the report.
According to AFP, contrary to popular belief, Poland has never had much water. It receives less rainfall than countries further west, while the rate of evaporation is comparable, and warmer winters with less snow mean that groundwater is not being replenished by spring melts.
More importantly, Poland captures little of this water, which is turning a vast strip of land across the country into steppe and threatening agriculture, forests and wildlife.
“We’re only just discovering that Poland has an issue with water”, says Leszek Pazderski, an environmental expert with Greenpeace Poland, “we thought it was a sub-Saharan Africa problem, not a European one”.
The water crisis is likely to be even worse this year
According to a spokesperson for Wody polskie (Polish waters), the state institution responsible for water policy, 2018 was a very, very dry year, with water levels falling to 1,100 cubic metres per capita, per year, “nearly below the safety threshold”. And the situation is likely to be even worse this year.
The Polish Hydrological Service already warned this month that groundwater levels in 12 out of 16 Polish provinces could be too low to fill shallow wells. Over 320 municipalities have already imposed water restrictions with some even banning filling swimming pools, watering gardens or washing cars.
AFP reports that in early June, the town of Skierniewice, 80 kilometres southwest of Warsaw, had to cut water in some districts. Municipal authorities were forced to distribute ten-litre water bags to “furious residents”.
A sign of the looming crisis, Poland retains only 6.5 percent of the water that passes through its territory, while Spain, for instance, manages to keep nearly half. The government plans to spend 14 billion zlotys (€3.28 billion, or $3.6 billion) to build around 30 holding tanks which should double Poland’s water retention capacity by 2027.
Farmers will also be allowed to build small tanks up to 1,000 cubic metres without special permits.