Czechs don’t take water for granted anymore

There is a long-term water shortage in the Czech Republic. After several years of unusually low precipitation, it is not just farmers and foresters who are noticing a lack of moisture in Nature. The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute is warning that our attitude towards water needs to change.

Czech water reservoirs are far from full, photo: Vít PohankaCzech water reservoirs are far from full, photo: Vít Pohanka Water is precious. It is something we all seem to understand, yet for years we took water for granted here in the Czech Republic. After all, Moravia suffered devastating floods in 1997, a few years later the Vltava flooded the historic center of Prague and tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated. But these and other floods are due to frequent weather fluctuations, while the overall climate is getting warmer and drier. Jan Daňhelka is the deputy director of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute:

"You know, it is always difficult to asses the current extreme fluctuation from a long-term perspective. To state categorically what is the cause, whether it is a kind of natural accident or part of a permanent shift. With high probability, it is a combination of both factors. What we can say for certain is, that there have always been fluctuations in water levels in the past. But at the same time, it is a fact that we are experiencing a warmer period,there is no doubt about that."

The drought is not dramatic but long and persistent, photo: Vít PohankaThe drought is not dramatic but long and persistent, photo: Vít Pohanka Jiří Zvolánek has been farming in the Vysočina (or Highlands) region for fifty years. He drives me around the fields he knows so well:

"I think it was about ten years ago that we started noticing the significant effects of a prolonged drought. Also, the winters have been either with less snow or nearly completely without snow and that seems to be a contributing factor. The lack of groundwater was not traditionally a problem here in the Highlands. But to be frank, in the past two or three years it has been getting worse and worse even here.“

What an experienced farmer like Mr. Zvolánek sees in the fields, academics confirm. Robert Pokluda is the Dean of the Faculty of Horticulture at the Mendel University in Brno:

There should normally be water flowing over this dam, photo: Vít PohankaThere should normally be water flowing over this dam, photo: Vít Pohanka "The situation is getting more and more serious each and every year. There is less and less groundwater and it is not replenished by natural precipitation. All the permanent vegetation suffers. It is a combination of factors? Winters are warmer and mostly without snow. That means less water in the spring that is followed by hotter and drier summers. But even annual plants are affected negatively even if indirectly. Warmer weather means that there are now pests here that were not common. The new conditions suit them.“

Dean Pokluda does not want to speculate about whether or not this is the result of global climate change:

"Sure, fluctuations were quite common in the past. Climate has never been completely even in time, there have always been fluctuations. However, what we are witnessing now is a coincidence of several negative factors. There is simply less and less water and that goes hand in hand with higher temperatures. We, people, contribute by planting a less than ideal mix of vegetation, to put it mildly. All that together causes much more serious problems than the draught itself.“

Hydrologist Jan Daňhelka agrees. He says people‘s attitude to water needs to change:

The levels of surface and underground water are very low in Czechia, photo: Vít PohankaThe levels of surface and underground water are very low in Czechia, photo: Vít Pohanka "I would be really glad if we changed our approach to and understanding of water. It is an extremely precious resource, not just something that automatically starts flowing the moment we open the tap. I think we are starting to understand the environment, its high value. When we come to some beautiful, cool place in a forest, we usually recognize its value.

"Unfortunately, it seems that we do not appreciate water in the same way, at least not yet. But it is really water that is at stake, now. It is a valuable resource that forms a kind of blood circulatory system of the Earth, all ecosystems, the whole planet. It is water that makes the cycle of life possible. It would be good if we could learn to understand and accept water as this very significant and fascinating element."