The slow but steady decline in Rhine water levels is not only an ecological issue, but could ultimately lead to higher prices of shipped goods and threatens the entire German economy, Origo reports.
Last October, the level of the Rhine in Cologne dropped to a historic low of 77 centimeters (the previous low of 81 cm was recorded in 2003), also revealing hundreds of unexploded bombs from WWII, some of them as large as several tons.
These bombs – the river is estimated to hide some 3,000 – were meant to destroy bridges but are now a real threat to shipping, as barges could set them off at any time.
But this waterway is also the one linking Germany – through Swizterland – to Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest seaport. Its loss would also mean an end to cheap barge transports – especially of durable household items, but also various ores and grains.
The Rhine is mainly fed by melting glaciers, but water volumes from those have dropped by as much as 35 percent since 1973. German data showed that in 2017 alone Rhine shipping volume was 186 million tons, or half of Europe’s entire fluvial shipping. Lower water levels mean that barges cannot accept a full load and some of the goods must be transferred to rail or road. Even excluding the cost of the re-loading, train freight is about 40 percent more expensive than shipping.
Swiss and German households using heating oil already have to pay higher prices due to the rising shipping costs, but steelworks such as Thyssen-Krupp, coal-fired power plants and chemicals companies are also facing increasing expenses. Chemicals group BASF spent an additional US$285 million on alternative transport.