France drought: Homeowner fears as restrictions mount

Hot, dry summer causing buildings to crack, as authorities issue more water restrictions

Temperatures may have fallen, and many parts of France may have seen rain for the first time in several weeks - but the drought situation is not improving, with 78 departments now having at least one water restriction in place.

Meanwhile, homeowners in some areas are keeping a close eye on their properties, with the lack of rain leading to damage as the ground beneath their homes shrinks in the summer heat.

A total 160 water restrictions - each one set by departmental prefectures - are in place in the affected departments, according to the government's Propluvia website.

The colour key goes from white (no restrictions) to grey (low level alert), to higher alerts yellow and orange.

Red is the most severe "crisis" level, and means a ban on all water use that is not for health or hygiene (such as drinking water and washing).

France has three other levels of drought alert.

Level one (grey) urges the public to consider their water use and urges them to cut down where possible.

A level two (yellow) 'alert' cuts the amount of water farmers can use by 50% and prohibits activities such as watering gardens, green spaces, golf courses, washing cars between 10h and 20h daily.

A level three (orange) 'enhanced alert' imposes more stringent limits on farmers and prohibits watering gardens, green spaces, golf courses or car washing.

Some municipalities may also issue their own water consumption restrictions.

The hot summer 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, adding that 60% of groundwater tables were already moderately low in early June.

As reported in the August issue of Connexion (order a pdf copy here), the drought and heat is also damaging houses - notably in areas with clay soil. In hot, dry weather, the soil shrinks - while during wet periods it expands - which, in turn, causes cracks in properties built in these areas.

Read more (subscribers only): Insurance fight over house cracks caused by heatwave

In the most severe cases, buildings have had to be pulled down. Insurance companies are now demanding new standards in property construction - and, from 2020, a soil survey will be mandatory for land sold in areas likely to be affected - which accounts for about 20% of the country.

Read more (subscribers only): Households bear brunt of France’s anti-drought plan

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