As Europe's hot summer and drought conditions continue, water levels in rivers and canals have dropped, with the situation particularly critical on the Rhine as it flows through Germany, with an impact on industry as well as tourism.
While the river cruise industry has been watching the levels fretfully because of the potential for schedule disruptions, the effects for industry have been more severe. The Rhine carries about 80% of Germany's waterborne freight, especially for industries located along the river. Aside from raw materials, it is also an important means of transport for coal, still used in some power plants.
Because freight barges need more water under them than most river cruise ships, they have been more immediately affected by water levels that are approaching the historic lows of 2018. Many have been forced to carry only a quarter or half of their normal capacity to avoid grounding.
Experts believe water levels on the Rhine will continue to fall unless there is significant rainfall soon, and that is not currently predicted. The Federal Institute of Hydrology currently estimates the record lows of 2018 could come within weeks.