Europe may be facing a new crisis and this one not related to terrorism. There is a decreasing supply of life's most critical commodity: Water. Dozens of European countries are expected to face shortages in the decades ahead. Some are facing it now. Our Scott Thuman went to Rome, to witness the most recent challenge, to one of the Empire's greatest achievement.
The ancient city of Rome was built on seven hills and, in part, on the genius of Roman engineering. For millennia, waters have flowed freely, a symbol of Roman power and prowess.
They were the first to build thousands of miles of aqueducts to deliver drinking and bathing water to its people and secure a civilization that stood while others collapsed.
But suddenly, water is in short supply. Some of the taps are alarmingly being turned off.
And Rome is a little less Roman. Like Narcissus and his water reflections, elated masses of selfie-taking tourists use the famous fountains as backdrops. For relief from the heat and for their own version of Hollywood hopes and dreams, Roman style.
Movie Clip: “3 Coins in a Fountain”
The Trevi Fountain is just that spot. In fact, when it comes to Rome, these water features,
whether the Pantheon, the Piaza del Popolo or the Spanish Steps, are a draw to tourists from around the world, seeking history, romance and a drink.
Belgian Man: I’m from Belgium and I’ve never seen it in Belgium. You always have to pay for free water, here it’s for free. It’s marvelous.
Australian Woman: It’s beautiful, it’s great, it’s just really easy,
Scott Thuman: Kind of a life saver when it’s hot?
Australian Woman: I’ve filled this up 6 times today.
Australian Woman: Yeah.
Canadian Man: I found out that there are 2,500 fountain in Rome, the water travel like 70 miles away from Rome, which is that’s amazing.
But this summer, the empire has been struck back. A drought almost unparalleled in decades, coupled with a heat wave so severe it was nicknamed ‘Lucifer,’ has the eternal city looking less invincible. Government officials have begun shutting off many of those famous drinking fountains, urging conservation and have even debated rationing.
Scott Thuman: Is it fair to call this a crisis?
Maurizio del Monte: Now we have a crisis, yes, but we can solve it.
Maurizio del Monte is a professor who studies the forces that sculpt the earth’s surface. He says this is a wake-up call, regarding Rome’s greatest commodity.
Scott Thuman: So you're worried about the water supply for citizens?
Maurizio del Monte: Yes, yes.
Scott Thuman: It's that serious?
Maurizio del Monte: It may be a problem.
A problem, even for the Pope. For the first time since anyone can remember, the Pontiff has ordered these majestic marble fountains greeting vatican visitors off, along with almost 100 other fountains around the holy grounds.
Scott Thuman: Is it a message that they send by turning off fountains?
Maurizio del Monte: Yes, I think it could be a good idea to tell people "don't use too much water", and explaining the reasons.
Scott Thuman: Today when we were at the Vatican, at St. Peter's, they had turned off the fountains. They could not remember the last time they've had to turn off the fountains.
Maurizio del Monte: No, I don't remember. I think it's a symbolic thing, but it's a good idea.
Though, an equally pressing issue, is underground.
While you wouldn’t know it walking here on the Tiber River, Rome is leaking. Roughly 40 out of every 100 gallons, are simply lost. 12-Hundred miles of pipes in need of urgent repair.
The city is now scrambling to replace a system, that is losing in a battle against time, and now has devolved into sinkholes, crumbling roads and Del Monte worries, eventually, building collapses.
And while so far, it’s only been a couple hundred of the almost three thousand streetside taps turned off, it is more, each month.
Belgian Man: I heard on the radio they would like to turn some foundtains off…it would be a shame. They shouldn’t do that. They’re famous for their water so---let the water stream!”
But even if the pipelines are shored up, and the skies open up, it’s not a guaranteed solution. Del Monte says increasingly concerning weather and warming patterns that also cost billions in agricultural losses…could become more common, leaving Rome tapped out.
Maurizio del Monte: We cannot say if in the future this trend is going to continue.
Scott Thuman: But it's very possible that this could happen again next summer or the summer after that?
Maurio del Monte: The future is open, I think.