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Alpes-Maritimes already on drought warning after unusually dry winter

Farmers are calling for authorities to take action, with one union boss saying: ‘We either continue to water roundabouts to please tourists or we prioritise the agriculture which feeds us’

Farmers in Alpes-Maritimes are concerned about the future of this year’s crops as the department is placed under a drought warning Pic: sunday pictures / Shutterstock

The department of Alpes-Maritimes has been put on the ‘vigilance’ level of drought warning as its farmers call for strict water conservation measures. 

“This has never been seen before,” Jean-Philippe Frère, the president of the agricultural union FDSEA 06 told Nice Matin.

“The water table is at its lowest point. The water deficit has already reached 50%. And the weather forecast for the coming months is not very reassuring.” 

Cécile Guyon from Météo-France Sud-Est added: “For the months of March and April, according to our modelling, there is a good probability that conditions will be drier and hotter than usual. We are in the season when supplies [should be] replenished, which happens between September and March.

“In reality, the department has been in a water deficit since last July, with January having been particularly noteworthy since only 4mm of rain fell in that month.

“The situation is worrying.”

“We cannot wait until the month of June to take measures,” Mr Frère insisted, adding that he will be meeting with the prefecture this week to discuss what can be done. “We are going to ask for emergency measures,” he said, “Because it is necessary to put water restrictions in place immediately, and not just limited to filling up swimming pools or a ban on washing cars.

“We either continue to water roundabouts and planters to please tourists, or we prioritise the agriculture which feeds us. Especially with the surge in the price of fuel, importing [food] will cost us dearly.”

Mr Frère added that this situation only emphasises “the climate change which farmers have been facing for more than 10 years. 

“It is no longer up for debate, it is a reality and we have adapted to it. But the rest of the population, the majority, has not changed its habits. We are going to have to accept that water is a resource that will become more and more rare.

In La Penne, Caussols and Gars, farmers are having to source water from outside their land because their own resources are running dry, the chamber of agriculture has said.

How can I reduce my water consumption? 

  • Take showers rather than baths 
  • Opt for your dishwasher or washing machine’s economy setting
  • Collect and reuse rainwater
  • Install devices that reduce the amount of water used when your toilet flushes

You can view a map of France including the areas which are under drought alert or water restrictions on the ecological transition ministry site Propluvia. Part of Ain is also currently under a drought alert. 

How do drought warnings and restrictions work?

‘Vigilance’ is the lowest level of drought restriction in France, and involves raising awareness and encouraging individuals to reduce their water usage. 

The next level is ‘alert’, which leads to a reduction in the amount of water which can be used for farming, and for watering green spaces such as golf courses.

This is followed by ‘reinforced alert’, which tightens the above restrictions and could also lead to some usages being temporarily banned. 

The final restriction level is ‘crisis’, under which water may only be used for essential reasons such as drinking, cooking or washing. 

In times of drought, the ministry of agriculture can decide to recognise a state of “agricultural calamity” and compensate farmers for up to 30% of their ruined crops.

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