Czechs facing worst drought for 500 years - minister

PRAGUE, April 29 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic is facing its worst drought in 500 years and some communities could see their supplies run dry, Environment Minister Richard Brabec said on Wednesday.

A map presented by the ministry showed that just 0.1% of the Czech Republic had a normal level of water in the soil in mid-April while extreme drought was found in 75.4% of the country.

Drought conditions have persisted since 2015, as temperatures rise and rainfall dwindles.

“We are facing an unprecedented drought period, both in its duration and its impact,” Brabec said after scientists presented data showing the Czech Republic faced the worse drought in 500 years.

“Smaller rivers will dry out, there may be tens, perhaps hundreds of communities supplied by cisterns, because their sources may dry out,” Brabec said.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact most Czech rivers flow out of the country and by the legacy of intensive farming.

In the country’s Communist era of forced collectivisation, fields were joined up into some of Europe’s largest single-crop units, while pathways and other dividers were removed.

Experts say this has significantly reduced the ability of the landscape to retain water, now leaving the nation of 10.7 million struggling to maintain sustainable water levels.

Drought and higher temperatures have also contributed to the bark beetle spread, which hit the country last year with damage estimated at $1.70 billion.

The Environment Ministry is negotiating for 3.5 billion crowns ($139.90 million) of extra spending this year to fight the drought, Brabec said, a move that could help a harvest that includes grains and rapeseed. He did not give details of how he envisaged the money being spent. ($1 = 25.0170 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Robert Muller, Editing by Michael Kahn and Alison Williams)