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How are French authorities informing people of water restrictions?

Readers report mixed experiences in terms of obtaining information with some saying it has been near impossible to work out the rules and others praising the efforts of local authorities

Watering the grass or plants is currently prohibited in many parts of France, with the country experiencing a drought crisis Pic: Laurence Berger / Shutterstock

France is currently facing a severe drought crisis with water restrictions of some level in place in every department. These restrictions can be issued at a departmental level or on a commune-by-commune basis, meaning different authorities may be in charge of relaying the rules. 

Connexion readers report mixed experiences with how easy it has been to know what rules, which can range from bans on garden watering between certain hours to strict daily water limits, apply to their area.

Some have said communication has been “hopeless”, while others have praised mairies for their efforts. 

France’s minister for ecological transition, Christophe Béchu, yesterday (August 5) announced that 100 communes are currently without any drinkable tap water with sources depleted. 

He called the situation “historic”, adding that the “challenge is to tighten a number of restrictions to avoid this happening [elsewhere]”. 

The government has formed an inter-ministerial crisis unit to assess the situation. 

Read more: 60 French departments have ‘crisis’ drought alerts as heat continues

In the southern department of Var, nine communes have taken the step of limiting residents’ daily water consumption to 200 litres per person. 

Read more: French drought measures: How much water do household appliances use?

The mairies are vital

We asked the prefecture of Lozère, which is on the maximum drought alert level of “crisis” , how it is updating residents on the rules and it said it had taken a multi-pronged approach.

It has published the official decree outlining the restrictions on its website, as well as on posts on Facebook and Twitter

A spokesperson also said that the local and regional press play an important role in sharing information and that the prefecture has spoken with various outlets. 

Finally, it said that local mairies are vital to spreading information. 

“Seeing as we have many small villages in the department, the mairies play an important role in informing the citizens, who often turn to them to get updates and information,” the spokesperson told The Connexion

The department’s prefect, Philippe Castanet, called a “water resources” meeting on July 27 to plan restrictions with local authorities and actors and since the end of July there have been special meetings held every Friday on the issue of drought. 

The spokesperson said that physical letters or emails had not been sent out from the prefecture to residents but that local mairies may have taken this step. 

Every department in France will take a slightly different strategy and local mairies will also relay information through different channels. 

A spokesperson for Ademe, France’s Environment and Energy Management Agency, said they could not comment on how authorities are keeping people informed of water restriction measures. 

National alert levels and Propluvia

There is a national-level drought alert website called Propluvia, which provides a map classifying departments based on the four levels of drought alert. 

These are: 

Code 1 - warning (vigilance)

Code 2 - alert (alerte)

Code 3 - heightened alert (alerte renforcée)

Code 4 - crisis (crise) 

While this website gives an overview of restrictions, it does not give the specific measures in place in each commune. 

The government advises certain measures be taken at each level of alert but these can be modified by local authorities, meaning they are not necessarily consistent. 

Read more: Vigilance, alert, crisis: what France’s four drought warnings mean

From hopeless to well-organised

Connexion readers have reported different means for staying on top of measures. 

Some said that they just follow the actions of their neighbours, watering the grass when they do, for example. 

One reader criticised their area’s communication strategy, calling it “hopeless”. 

Another said that they found it difficult to keep up with the rules but said that they used various Facebook groups to stay informed. 

Emma, a freelance communication specialist living in Nice, said she had a particularly difficult time finding precise information about what restrictions are in place in the city. 

“I did not find the drought website, Propluvia, very helpful. So, I went onto the Ville de Nice website and had to really dig around to find anything related to watering private gardens,” she said.

“I speak pretty good French but this was a decree document using high-level French. I came away still not 100% sure.

“My French neighbours don't know either and we have a communal garden

“It's frustrating because I'm a resident in France but still a guest in this country and want to abide by the rules

“I don't know how they could enforce fines if they've not made every effort to communicate to the general public the rules.

“So, I'm erring on the side of caution and using washing up water instead of the hosepipe, and sacrificing my first crop of courgettes!

“I felt awkward asking a neighbour to double check the restrictions before I agreed to water his garden while he was on holiday. He didn't know either so he told me not to bother. Nevermind.”

Pierre Gestin, an osteopath who lives in Hyères, Var, said that he was not aware of any restrictions in place in his area. 

He says that he does not normally do much gardening anyway and so was not concerned, but that to his knowledge he had not received any letters or emails from local authorities. 

However, another Connexion reader living in Aude was pleased with their mairie’s actions, saying they had been sent an email summarising the rules and another with the decree outlining the legislation. 

And another said that their mairie shares information on the application Panneau Pocket, which allows mairies and other local authorities to put out alerts to keep residents informed. 

You can keep up to date with the drought restrictions at a departmental level using our guide, which is updated daily: Drought map update: See the French departments with water restrictions

Related stories

60 French departments have ‘crisis’ drought alerts as heat continues

French homes subject to drought rule checks

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