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Drought in France: 2023 set to be ‘very dry year’ and it starts now

We ‘must get used to and better anticipate’ a lack of rainfall, an expert warns, as water levels remain very low

A photo of a dry river in the Camargue, France

Rainfall can refill rivers and give life to plants but it would take a lot more to replenish the water table in some areas Pic: Krisztian Juhasz / Shutterstock

France is facing the prospect of a “very dry year” from as early as this month, environmental experts have warned, after many areas suffered from heatwaves and drought conditions in 2022.

The vice president of France Nature Environnement, Jean-David Abel, told FranceInfo that “from January-February, we must anticipate a very dry year”. He added that these conditions are something that “we must get used to and better anticipate”.

At the end of December, 19 departments across the country were still on drought alert due to a lack of water and poor replenishment of water table reserves.

Mr Abel said: “Prefectures must plan for this. It’s best to use the resources available [prudently] as they are…to avoid a crisis situation, and pressure on the prefectural services.”

He said: “It’s not possible to continue using water, either for farming or domestic uses, independently of resources that remain in nature.”

Prefectures and water agencies have a role to play

He called on prefectures to use water agencies for help to better anticipate usage levels.

He said: “We are struggling to change our habits and practices, but this change must be long-term. We must anticipate that there will be less water in the decades to come. The state has a particular responsibility.

“In the same way as industrial processes must be more effective energy-wise, they must also be more effective water-wise.”

It comes as many areas of France still have dangerously-low water levels, which cannot be replenished by heavy rainfall, even over a few days. Late last year, some experts even said that it would have to rain for several weeks, if not months, to fully replenish resources.

Read more: This is how much rainfall France needs to end the drought 

Some rain helps to refill rivers and bring life back to plants, but the ground must be fairly waterlogged before the water table begins to replenish.

The situation, which has been ongoing for several years, was worsened last year by an exceptionally hot summer and relatively dry winter.

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