World rivers dwindle to a trickle

The source of England’s river Thames, France’s river Loire and even China’s Yangtze tributary have seen unusually low water levels.

This July was the driest for England since 1935, according to Britain's weather forecasting organisation, the Met Office with average rainfall at 23.1 millimetres, just 35 percent of the average for the month.

Some parts of the country saw the driest July ever, as the source of the River Thames has dried up further downstream than ever before. Stretching 356 kilometres across southern England, from the county of Gloucestershire in the west through the heart of London, before entering the sea in the county of Essex to the east, Thame’s natural spring that supplies the river, known as the source, dries up most summers. This year, however, the dry riverbed reaches significantly further downstream than in previous years, according to observations by conservation experts.

“The Thames would normally be at its source – and there's a nice pub next to it – would be about 15 kilometres back upstream,” Alisdair Naulls, an engagement officer at the Rivers Trust, told Reuters while standing in a small section of the Thames in Cricklade, about 80 km west of London.

“It's very, very shallow here... but you don't have to go much further up this little bit of the Thames to find yourself stood on dry ground. And really, that is ground that should still be wet and should always be wet.”

Mr Naulls said the shallow, warmer water contained less oxygen, which fish and other wildlife needed to thrive.

Loire so shallow that barges find hard to navigate

Famous for the hundreds of castles on its banks such as Chambord, Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau, France’s river Loire is a shallow river at the best of times. This year, however, flat-bottomed tourist barges can hardly navigate as record drought has cut river flow to a trickle.

Sandbanks now stretch as far as the eye can see some 100 kilometres to the estuary. Large islands connect to the shore and here, people can practically ford the river.

A UNESCO World Heritage site with iconic castles, the Loire valley has suffered historically low water levels before, but this year's drought must be a wake-up call, said expert Eric Sauquet.

“The lowering of the water level [of the Loire river] in 2022 is quite exceptional because there is a major deficit in rainfall that began last Winter,” said Mr Sauquet, who is head of hydrology at the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE).

Just like in Britain, Germany and elsewhere, the low water levels of the Loire are disastrous for river fish. As the shallow water loses oxygen, it heats up and makes them easy prey for herons.

Yangtze tributary runs dry as China faces another month of drought

An unprecedented drought across the Chongqing region decreased the water levels in the Yangtze riverbed.

“I am actually pretty worried, because the water has been cut off in my compound,” said Tian Feng, a 27-year old resident exploring the riverbed.

“Originally, I planned to see if I could walk directly from here to the other side of the river,” she said. “Because the water over there is still not dried out yet, I cannot cross.”

Dead fish were visible on the exposed flats of the Jialing, a long winding tributary that flows through three provinces before joining the Yangtze in Chongqing.

On Wednesday, China warned that the severe dry spell along the Yangtze could last well into September as local governments race to maintain power and find fresh water to irrigate crops ahead of the autumn harvest.