Tools and methods for drought management in the Alps

Basic information:

As Alpine water systems as well as water uses are closely interlinked across borders, a transnational approach to dealing with threats from droughts and thus to drinking water security seems necessary.

Due to their generally large water availability and the specific topographical conditions in the Alps, the impacts of climate change on drinking water security will – on an overall level – be less pronounced than in other European regions. However, in combination with seasonal shifts in precipitation and higher evapotranspiration in summer, some regions in the Alps (e.g., inner-Alpine dry valleys, peri-Alpine locations in the South and East, areas with high water needs) are already affected by temporal droughts. These droughts lead to recurring bottlenecks in water supply during dry periods as well as to impacts on hydropower generation and on artificial snowmaking due to changing capacities of water reservoirs. In line with climate change projections (changing interactions between glaciers and river water regimes, changing snow distribution and precipitation patterns), it has to be expected that these regions that are already prone to water scarcity will become highly vulnerable drought hotspots in the future (affecting drinking water, process water for industry and SMEs, hydropower generation, artificial snowmaking). Thus, a common approach to deal with drought management throughout the Alps seems necessary.

Furthermore, following the approach introduced at EU level by the Water Framework Directive and taking into account SDG 6, the use of the water resources should carefully take into account the water availability in the whole river basin, thus considering also the possible needs and pressures coming from other drought hotspots downstream. Also, it needs to be ensured that drought management measures are in line with the preservation of ecosystems and their services.

Sequence of implementation steps:

Based on the dataset and conflict analysis identified in the pathway IP_W1 “Implementation of an Alpine-wide approach for mainstreaming climate change into transboundary water management” an Alpine-wide climate impact modelling/assessment approach will identify potential drought “hot spots” under different climate scenarios, taking into account current climate sensitivity of regional water supply systems. This requires a common methodology as well as the identification of a common threshold on how to identify hot spots as well as the application of comparable climate scenarios and tools. This hot spot analysis shall consider that water scarcity can result from different regional characteristics, so that a classification of hot spots seems necessary (see e.g., AlpWaterScarce recommendations).

As final output, an interactive map with potential drought hot spots and an overview on affected water users in these hot spots under different scenarios and for different timeframes shall be established.

Based on results in previous projects (see starting points above), early warning systems as well as intervention concepts for these hot spots will be developed.

Up to now, occurrence of droughts is recognized at a late stage, when the signs become visible and when a drought is already underway. It is thus necessary to develop methods and (short-term/seasonal) forecasting techniques to identify drought situations at an early stage and to trigger relevant measures. The early warning system can be linked to the early warning system for natural hazards (see pathway IP_NH1 “Implementation of an Alpine-wide risk management plan“) and should be in line with ongoing activities at EU level[1] as well as adaptation strategies developed at different policy levels.

To trigger effective measures, an early warning system should also include a coordinated emergency plan. This requires the development of an intervention concept including a coordinated prioritisation of water uses and regulatory measures for water saving which come into force at specific tipping points. Such an intervention concept considers the effects that those measures have on ecological services of affected areas. Developing and achieving agreement on these measures will require participatory processes with affected stakeholders and water users.

[1] e.g., the European Drought Observatory: https://edo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/edov2/php/index.php?id=1000

Careful and economical use of drinking water resources needs awareness-raising on water saving behaviour, but it can also be effectively supported by infrastructural measures. To reduce the consumption of high quality drinking water for non-drinking purposes, such as water toilets and irrigation as well as for artificial snowmaking, separate raw and/or processing water systems should be developed and installed, in particular in “hot spot” regions prone to droughts. This would also reduce the effects of droughts on other water uses.

In order to continuously improve the early warning system and emergency plan, actual drought and water scarcity situations shall be monitored and re-analysed (including information on new demand seasonality, socio-economic data etc.). The early warning system will be improved accordingly.

In addition, effects of measures of the emergency planning concept will be evaluated to allow a future fine-tuning of measures.

Further Information:

  • See pathway IP_W2 “Implementation of an Alpine-wide approach for mainstreaming climate change into transboundary water management”
  • Stakeholders representing industry and SMEs, hydropower generation, nature protection authorities/organisations, agricultural sector, winter tourism and recreation planning, District Authorities with a proper knowledge of the downstream needs
  • Map with drought “hot spots” under different climate scenarios and water uses which are affected in these hot spots (drinking and process water, hydropower, artificial snowmaking, ecosystems of the wetlands, agriculture, etc.)
  • Early warning systems for water scarcity linked to intervention measures in identified hot spot regions
  • Concept/recommendations on improving water efficiency and infrastructure for use of raw water/process water and water reuse
  • RSA2: Water and water management issues (2009)
  • Guidelines on local adaptation to Climate Change for Water Management and Natural Hazards in the Alps (Platform Water Management, 2014) (stock-taking No. 8)
  • Initiative “Strategic planning: How to face drought periods in the Alpine Region” (stock-taking No. 10) and report “Facing droughts in the Alpine region. Experiences, approaches and common challenges” of the Water Platform of the Alpine Convention (2019)
  • Project AlpWaterScarce (stock-taking No. 67)
  • Project C3-Alps – Capitalising Climate Change Knowledge for Adaptation in the Alpine Space (pilot activities in France and Italy; Alpine Space Programme) DriDanube projects and other projects implemented for international river basins
  • EUSALP AG6 recommendations and good practices on green infrastructure solutions
  • Project ADO (Alpine Drought Observatory), approved and co-financed by the Alpine Space Programme in late 2019




Water management in the Alps faces new challenges due to climate change: Climate change leads to changes in precipitation patterns and puts additional pressures on Alpine water resources, resulting in exceptional situations of both water scarcity and floods. There tends to be less snow but more rain in winter and less water in summer, with drought episodes becoming more frequent, especially in the southern and south-eastern Alps. The decrease of snow and the melting of glaciers also reduce the amount of stored water. The use of water for agriculture, households, hydropower generation and tourism needs to be managed carefully to prevent conflicts of usage and to keep the water ecosystems functional.