ROME, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Water rationing was ordered in some 20 municipalities around the Italian capital, due to a severe drought affecting the country, local media reported on Monday.
Water supplies were being suspended for some hours each week in the small towns affected by the provision, according to Ansa news agency. These included the municipalities of Rocca Priora, Rocca di Papa, Zagarolo, Grotta Ferrata, and Lariano -- all lying 20 to 35 km southeast of Rome.
Up to 1.5 million residents in the Italian capital may face the same restriction, depending on what steps regional and local authorities would take later this week to tackle the emergency.
The government of the Lazio region -- which comprises Rome -- has in fact ordered an halt to water drawing from Lake Bracciano on Friday, a major source of water lying some 30 km away from the capital, after the long absence of rain severely depleted it.
The lake's level would have fallen down so much to risk "an environmental disaster," Lazio's governor Nicola Zingaretti told local media on Saturday. The ban on pumping water from the lake could enter into force on July 28, and last until Dec. 31.
Rome's water utility company Acea criticized the step, calling it "an unilateral and illegitimate decision that will bring about serious consequences for the citizens of Rome."
"The drastic reduction of the water flow into the network of the capital will force us to implement a drastic rotation of supplies, which will affect about 1.5 million Romans," Acea said in a statement.
If no alternatives were found, water supplies may be cut for up to 8 hours a day in alternate neighborhoods in Rome, it added.
An emergency meeting with regional authorities and representatives from the water company would be called at the city hall to try to avoid the measure, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi told Il Messaggero daily on Monday.
Another meeting was scheduled at the environment ministry on Thursday, according to minister Gian Luca Galletti.
Rome's fountains also risked being turned off, while some of the so-called "big noses" -- little drinking fountains scattered around the city -- had already been shut in late June to save supplies.
Central Lazio, Marche, and Umbria regions were declared to be under "severe drought stress" since July 14. Yet, almost the whole country has experienced relevant lack of rainfall and higher temperatures so far this year.
The 2017 spring was the second hottest since 1800, Italy's Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate stated in June. Emilia Romagna and Tuscany regions have already declared a regional state of emergency due to the shortage of water supplies.
Overall, up to 10 regions were ready to seek the status of natural calamity with the agriculture ministry, Ansa reported citing ministerial sources.
Lack of rainfall, above-average temperatures, and wildfires combined would have affected almost two-thirds of the country's farmland, causing damages worth at least 2 billion euros (2.3 billion U.S. dollars) to agriculture and livestock so far, according to national farmers' association Coldiretti.