Germany's rivers aren't babbling on

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe
If you live in Germany, you need only look out your window to see just how much damage these weeks of high temps and lack of rain have inflicted on all growing things. Where the green grass once grew, there’s a patchy scourge of straw, and many once leafy trees are mere husks of their former selves. The mercury’s stubborn refusal to drop continues to make headline news.
And it’s not just on the ground that the hot dry weather continues to wreak havoc. Water levels in many of the country’s major rivers, including those that form the backbone of the shipping industry, have sunk dramatically, with far-reaching implications.
With the Elbe at its lowest level in more than half a century, much unexploded World War II ordnance is now being exposed. The discovery of grenades, mines, and munitions is nothing new in Germany, where hundreds of tons of the deadly stuff continues to turn up annually, more than 70 years after the war’s end. Residents are regularly forced to evacuate their homes to allow bomb disposal units to carry out their work. But this time it’s posing a problem as curious swimmers and hikers take to the dry riverbeds to hunt for it. Authorities have warned these would-be treasure seekers that even rusty, sediment-encrusted relics can prove lethal.
Some of the country's biggest rivers, including the Rhine and the Elbe, are so much warmer than normal that their fish populations are under intense pressure from a lack of oxygen. According to Zeit Online, the heat wave has already led to massive fish deaths in the Upper Rhine between Lake Constance and Basel. Graylings, a species from the salmon family which thrive in water colder than 73 degrees, cannot cope with the 80-degree temperatures that have been measured there.
Factories and power stations dependent on river water to cool down their systems have been forced to reduce their outputs in order to keep discharges of warmed-up water to a minimum.
The shipping industry has been affected too. While no ban on the transportation of cargo has been imposed in either the Rhine or the Danube, shipping companies have been forced to vastly reduce the weight of their loads. A few river cruise companies have taken the step of changing their itineraries.
There’s a glimmer of hope in sight for we land-based creatures at least. While most in Germany will continue to swelter through the day today, unsettled weather with the potential for severe thunderstorms is in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, and in its wake, somewhat cooler temperatures should follow. Wouldn't that be a blessed relief?
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