Why experts are worried about French drought

EDF forced to cut generation at nuclear power plants due to heat and lack of rain

The heatwave across France this week will exacerbate drought conditions that have led to water restrictions in 73 departments - and the continued arid spell could affect electricity production.

EDF has warned it may be forced to reduce or even cut electricity generation at its Golfech nuclear plant in Tarn-et-Garonne from Tuesday, July 23, because of high temperatures.

It uses water from the Garonne river to cool the two reactors at the plant. But it is obliged to reduce output when water temperatures rise or when river levels are low. It recent weeks it has been forced to cut power generation at its St Alban, Bugey, Cruas and Tricastin plants due to low water levels on the Rhone river.

The hot weather and lack of rainfall so far this year mean aquifer, groundwater and river levels are low, officials at the Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières (BRGM) said.

France has recorded what has been termed as a 'rain deficit' - in which there has not been enough winter rain to fully replenish groundwater or river levels - for the past two years.

On the whole, 2019 has been dry. It rained relatively little during the winter and, while Spring rainfall have been described as 'normal', high temperatures so far in the summer have placed a strain on water levels, experts have said, leaving them generally much lower last year at this time.

In the Hérault, for example, rainfall in 2019 is about half what it should be at this time of year. But drought is being felt nationwide - water levels in Bourgogne and areas of Alsace to the immediate south of Colmar are at historically low levels for this time of year.

Summer storms - such as the heatwave-ending ones forecast at the end of the week - will not provide much relief. Rain in the high summer does not usually recharge groundwater levels, as it is usually absorbed by plants and trees or evaporates too quickly. And because the ground is so dry, heavy rain from any storms that do occur will simply run off before it can be absorbed.

The key time for rebuilding water levels in France will begin in October, experts say. At that time - immediately after the summer - water levels are at their lowest and in greatest need of recharging. Another dry winter could leave water levels dangerously low at the beginning of summer 2020, they warn.

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