Rome’s Water Crisis Clarified

This morning they shut off the drinking fountain outside where I teach in the Ghetto.

Some say the extended drought is making such sacrifices necessary. Sensational photos of Lake Bracciano, at historic low, are tied with claims that the city’s famous water supply is running out.

Prof. Ceen drinking from Barcaccia, just as Pietro Bernini intended

As I pointed out in an interview a few weeks ago on PBS News Hour, this is a great wake-up call, calling attention to the global water crisis.

Not that there is any less water on the planet than there has ever been; it is just poorly distributed and increasingly polluted.  Billions face shortages of clean water while others see their property washed away and their land eroded by floods.

Those who know about Rome’s water network will point out that the springs which feed the eternal city, high in the Apennines, are practically as abundant as usual. That water will find its way to the Mediterranean Sea one way or another. Turning off the fountains in Rome will have no effect on the water supply.

As for Lake Bracciano, less than 10% of the city’s water comes from there and could be replaced by water from other sources. Two years ago, Lake Bracciano was overflowing and the excess water, rather than being stored for times of drought, was dumped into the sea.

The real culprit is the poorly maintained infrastructure; between 30% and 50% of Rome’s water leaks from pipes. While fountains are dry, water is bubbling up from pavement throughout the city.

I hope that the administration doesn’t really think they are saving water by turning off the fountains. The “water crisis” today serves the political objective of addressing a perceived emergency.

The problem is that this solution is not just pointless. It is actually harmful. Without the constant flow to flush out the hydraulic system the pipes risk bacteriological contamination which will be very difficult to combat when the water is turned back on. Has anyone thought of this?