- The Rhine River is drying up amid unprecedented summer heat waves.
- The river, which runs through Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, is crucial for cargo movement.
- The water level in the Rhine bottleneck is at its lowest level in at least 15 years, Bloomberg reported.
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The Rhine River, one of Europe’s most important rivers used to transport cargo including chemicals, grain and coal across the continent, is drying up amid unprecedented summer heatwaves.
The German Federal Institute for Hydrology has warned that rivers in Central Europe are at “unusually low” levels and continue to fall.
Much of the 1,287-kilometre Rhine passes through Germany, Europe’s largest economy, but the river also runs through Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as along the French-German border.
The water level in Kaub, the river’s bottleneck, was 71 centimeters on Tuesday morning, according to Germany’s federal administration for waterways and navigation. When it hit 30 inches last week, it was already at the lowest level for this time of year since at least 2007, Bloomberg reported, citing government data.
Southwest German news channel SWR reported that low water levels are limiting shipping on the Rhine south of Duisburg and Cologne and that for days, cargo ships have been unable to travel fully loaded.
A representative of the German Federal Institute for Hydrology told Bloomberg that if the level in Kaub drops to 40 centimeters, it is not economical for ships carrying commodities to pass through because of how little cargo they could carry.
Low water levels are already affecting energy supplies. Coal supply to two power plants in Germany, one in Mannheim and one in Karlsruhe, has been “affected” by low water levels in the Rhine since July 13, according to the EEX exchange.
A spokesman for Shell, which owns refineries along the Rhine, told Bloomberg the company was monitoring the situation.
This comes after the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused huge disruptions in Europe’s energy market. Western nations have been moving away from Russian energy sources, while Russia itself has cut off some gas supplies to countries like Germany over its refusal to pay in rubles.
In late June, Germany announced that it had entered the second of its three-stage gas emergency plan and warned that supplies were under pressure.
To cover the limit, Germany has imported more natural gas from Norway and the Netherlands, as well as more liquefied natural gas. It has also made plans to fire up idle coal power plants as a short-term solution and Hamburg has even warned it could ration hot water.
Germany’s weather service issued heat warnings for almost the entire country on Tuesday. Temperatures are expected to reach almost 40 degrees in some parts of the country, including Berlin, Leipzig and Hannover, although areas through which the Rhine flows are expected to be slightly cooler.
Low water levels in the Rhine having an economic impact have not been uncommon in recent years, with a lack of water in the river in 2019 being blamed for causing a short-lived recession in Germany in late 2018.
Pantheon Macroeconomics said in January 2019 that low river levels effectively amount to a “supply shock to German manufacturing”, reducing the availability of key goods needed by the sector.