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In the heart of the Alps: what if water runs out?

From February 4th to 24th Energy Observer Foundation's exhibition village was set in Avoriaz. The goal? To raise awareness of the challenges of the energy transition and sustainable development and to showcase low-carbon mobility solutions and applications. An opportunity to understand the preservation of one of the key resources of the Alps: water.

Around Avoriaz

Guarantee access to water for all. That is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations (UN). One too often taken for granted. And yet...

Global warming accelerates the melting of glaciers. In 2022, 6% of the Swiss glaciers' total volume was lost. That compares with 2% previously considered an "extreme loss." Precipitation patterns are also changing.

“Reduced water availability and limited supply reliability will be a major problem in the coming decades”

9th Report on the State of the Alps, published by the Alpine Convention (October 2022)

As a result, the lives of 170 million people living in the Alps and along some of Europe's largest rivers - the Danube, the Po, the Rhine, and the Rhone - could soon be affected.

The 9th report on the state of the Alps, published by the Alpine Convention last October, even notes that "the reduction in the amount of water available and the limited reliability of the supply will be a major problem in the decades to come" if solutions are not found.

A once plentiful but now dwindling resource

Among the consumers who could compete for the resource are the Alpine resorts and villages. But also large consumers of water further downstream. Farmers use it to irrigate their fields. Or the industrial areas of Grenoble and Annecy, for example.

Nor should we forget the hydroelectric power plants. They sometimes weigh heavily on the electricity mix of the countries concerned, such as about 60% of Switzerland's production. And they produce low-carbon electricity that everyone needs in the fight against climate change. But the Argentière glacier, which feeds the Emosson dam (Switzerland) for example, could be gone before the end of this century. And already in 2022, with drought, Italy's hydroelectric production has fallen by almost 40%.

The solution? Engineers are thinking about it. For example, they are considering extending the range of operation of the dams to lower flows. More broadly, in consultation with all stakeholders, solutions for adapting to changes in the water balance, both in the Alps and around the rivers fed by its water. And urgently, we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to preserve the remaining glaciers and restore the precipitation regime.