MILAN -- The mayor of Milan signed an ordinance Saturday turning off the spigots of public decorative fountains and the city's archbishop prayed for rain in a tour of churches as northern Italy endures one of its worst droughts in decades.
The city ordinance follows the declaration Friday of a state of emergency in the surrounding Lombardy region, which has endured an unusually early heat wave and months without significant rainfall. Neighboring Emilia Romagna and Piedmont have undertaken similar crisis measures.
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said the ordinance would turn off decorative fountains except those holding flora and fauna that need fresh water. It further limits use of water sprinklers except for new-growth trees.
The mayor also decreed that shops in Italy's business and fashion capital can't set thermostats under 26 degrees Celsius (79 F) and must keep their doors closed to avoid overtaxing the power grid.
In a Facebook post, Sala invited Milanese to do their part and reduce water use as much as possible at home, in private gardens and even when cleaning terraces and courtyards.
Separately, Archbishop Mario Delpini made a pilgrimage Saturday to pray for “the gift of rain,” visiting three churches that serve the farming communities on the outskirts of Milan. He recited the Rosary and used holy water to bless a field in front of the St. Martin Olearo di Mediglia church.
Italy’s drought has dried up rivers crucial for irrigation, including the Po, threatening some 3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in agriculture, Italian farm lobby Coldiretti said this week. Italy's confederation of agricultural producers, Copagri, estimates the loss of 30%-40% of the seasonal harvest.
While unusual heat and lack of rainfall are to blame for the current crisis, Italy has a notoriously wasteful water infrastructure that national statistics agency ISTAT estimates loses 42% of drinking water from distribution networks each year, in large part due to old and poorly maintained pipes.
Italy’s civil protection agency is gathering information from regions and various national ministries to propose a broader state of emergency for affected regions. Hundreds of towns and cities across the north have already passed various ordinances calling for responsible water use to avoid the possibility of rationing.
Winfield reported from Rome.