Austria has more and more hot days – i.e. days with more than 30 degrees – a year. This weather situation leads to a sinking groundwater level in Austria’s lakes and rivers and also endangers the harvests of farmers with their open-air workshops. “The reasons for this are obvious: global warming combined with a lack of precipitation, but also the development of our fields and meadows, which are increasingly being lost as water reservoirs,” explained Kurt Weinberger, CEO of the Austrian Hagelversicherung, in his conversation with Helmut Habersack, manager of the Institute for hydraulic engineering, hydraulics and river research at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences.
“Climate change with strong precipitation deficits, the sealing of the soil and the regulation of the rivers with the resulting erosion of the river bed have a lasting negative effect on the groundwater level,” said Habersack. And further: “For example, the water level of Lake Constance is only eleven centimeters away from its historical minimum value. And last but not least, the sealing of surfaces represents a massive problem, because it leads to a reduction in the formation of new groundwater.”
In order to counteract this development, “a renaturation of rivers and wetlands as well as the reduction of land use is necessary. In this way, water could be kept in the landscape for longer, which in turn also serves to reduce the risk of flooding, since flood plains are retained or reclaimed,” the expert explained.
Due to the many hot days, farmers are already complaining about drought damage – the situation is expected to worsen in autumn. “We basically had a good grain harvest because there was enough rainfall. The situation is different for autumn crops such as corn, soybeans, pumpkins, potatoes, sunflowers and grassland. In the east and south of Austria in particular, we expect significant crop failures,” said Weinberger and warned: “From today’s perspective, we expect drought damage in agriculture of 100 million euros.” And further: “Even if the final extent of damage can only be quantified in mid-September, it is made clear to us that extreme drought is to be expected more and more in the future.”
“In addition to the threat to Austrian agriculture from increasing drought damage, agricultural production is also being massively endangered by the rapid concrete covering of agricultural land. In the last 25 years alone, 150,000 hectares of agricultural land have been developed in Austria, which corresponds to the size of the entire agricultural area of Burgenland. However, the increasing sealing not only means that agricultural land is lost for the production of local food. Sealed soil is lost as a water and carbon store, increasing flood damage as rain can no longer seep into the groundwater. In addition, there is the aspect that sealed surfaces absorb, store and release heat more,” conclude Weinberger and Habersack.