Tourists throw their coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. File picture: Gregorio Borgia/AP

Rome - Rome's famous drinking fountains, known as "nasoni" (big noses), will be gradually switched off starting next week as authorities deal with severe water shortages caused by unusually dry weather.

The 'nasoni,' made of cast iron and about 1 metre tall, have a nose-like nozzle offering a constant supply of cool drinking water. If you block the end of the nozzle with a finger, a jet of water springs from another hole further up the pipe, making it easier to take a sip.

In a letter to Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, the ACEA water company said it decided on the "gradual and partial closure" of Rome's more than 2,000 public fountains "given the exceptional drought situation" affecting the city.

Consumer groups complained that the move would force people to buy bottled water, while charity workers and animal welfare group warned that street fountains are used extensively by homeless people and provide water for the city's dogs and cats.

ACEA said it was "perfectly aware of the inconvenience" created by its decision, pledged to redouble its efforts to fix leaky water pipes, and told the mayor that she could ask for some selected fountains to be spared from closure.

Dry weather is severely affecting water supplies and agricultural production across Italy. Last week, Raggi banned the use of domestic water for gardening, filling up swimming pools or washing cars, but her decree does not seem to be enforced rigorously.