Serbs wade in shrinking Danube as dredgers work flat-out

  • Serbia dredges to keep drought-hit navigable rivers open
  • Low water levels slow coal supplies for power plants
  • Output hit at Serbia's hydropower plants

NOVI SAD, Serbia, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Serbian sunseekers flocking to the riverside beaches of Novi Sad have adopted new pastime this summer - wading across a vast stretch of the Danube usually reserved for cargo barges and cruise ships.

The navigable channel of western Europe's longest river, a trade and transport artery that passes through ten countries, is usually several hundred metres (yards) wide where it flows through Serbia's second-largest city.

But drought and record high temperatures have reduced that to a narrow lane only being kept open by dredging, with the water depth no more than waist high across almost half of the river's width.

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"We have deployed almost (our) entire (dredging) capacity... We are struggling to keep out waterways navigable along their full length," Veljko Kovacevic, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transportation, told Reuters

The same weather fronts - viewed by scientists as a consequence of global warming - have snarled river traffic on vital arteries in other parts of Europe, notably the Rhine in Germany and Italy's Po. Water levels in France's Loire are also close to record lows. read more

In Germany, energy generation has been impaired. The same is true in Serbia, where meteorological data shows the water depth at less than half the usual August level on the Danube and its other major navigable waterway, the Sava.

In both countries, the low water levels have impeded the transportation of coal, which in Serbia is vital for powering the winter output of thermal plants that account for about two thirds of Serbia's electricity output. read more

The state-run EPS power utility said this month that the low water flow so far this year had caused a 27% year-on-year drop in production at hydropower plants.

In neighbouring Bosnia, the EPHZHB utility, which generates its electricity solely from on hydropower plants, has called on the government to ban electricity exports until the end of September, saying it could not otherwise guarantee regular supplies to its 200,000 customers.

In Serbia, low river levels and stagnant waters have also threatened wildlife and fisheries, said Marija Trivuncevic, of an angling association the northern province of Vojvodina.

"Over the past several months we had ... situations when (some) water levels almost fell below the biological minimum," she told Reuters.

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Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; additional reporting by Daria Sito Sucic in Sarajevo; editing by John Stonestreet

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