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Rainwater, wells: eight questions about water restrictions in France

We look at whether you can still draw water from a well or from a rainwater harvesting tank when under a drought alert

We look at eight questions and answers about drought restrictions in France Pic: David Calvert / Shutterstock

After an unusually dry winter and a hot summer, almost all of France is under drought restrictions, with much of the country being placed on ‘crisis’, the highest level of alert. 

Read more: Drought map update: See the French departments with water restrictions

This means that residents have been told to only use water for essential purposes, and not for reasons such as washing cars or watering gardens. 

One mayor in the commune of Arboys-en-Bugey (Ain) has gone as far as to cut off the water supply between 08:30 and 11:00 and between 14:00 and 19:00. 

The residents of several communes in the Var have also been asked to limit their water consumption to 150 or 200 litres per person per day.

Read more: ‘No problem’: local feedback in France on 150-litre daily water limit

What are the levels of drought restriction? 

The restrictions to which your household is subject depend on the level of drought alert imposed in your area. 

There are four levels of alert: ‘vigilance’, ‘alerte’, ‘alerte renforcée’ and ‘crise’. 

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

Vigilance’ acts as a warning rather than introducing restrictions. Residents are encouraged to save water where possible, but there is no obligation. 

It is with an ‘alerte’ that restrictions are brought in, as water supply issues threaten uses such as gardening and irrigation. Residents may be asked to reduce the amount of water they use for non-essential purposes such as washing cars or filling up swimming pools. 

An ‘alerte renforcée’ tightens the restrictions imposed by an ‘alerte’, perhaps forbidding certain uses at specific times of day. 

Finally, a ‘crise’ alert results in the temporary banning of non-essential water usage by residents, who must only consume it for the purposes of drinking, washing, cooking etc.

These restrictions will normally apply for a set period of time, which should be outlined in the prefectural decree. 

How do I know if my commune is concerned by the measures? 

The official government website, Propluvia, contains a map showing the departments in which water restrictions apply. 

It is possible to zoom in on a department to see how alerts vary across the area. 

However, the measures applied to each commune will differ depending on the region of France, so it is also important to consult your mairie about the restrictions in place locally.

Propluvia generally provides links to the prefectural decrees introducing water restrictions, so you should be able to access them through the map.

The decree should normally be displayed at your mairie as well. 

Can I water my garden if under drought restrictions? 

People living in an area under ‘alerte’-level restrictions will generally be told to reduce the amount of water they use for tending to their garden. 

At this level of alert, watering your garden is often restricted between 8:00 and 20:00 depending on local rules.

At ‘alerte renforcée’ level, this limit will be tightened, or the practice could be banned completely. 

At ‘crise’ level, it is even more likely that watering one’s garden will be forbidden.

Can I wash my car? 

When an ‘alerte’ is first introduced, residents may be told not to wash their cars between certain times of the day, although it will still be possible to do it outside of this timetable, or at a car wash centre. 

An ‘alerte renforcée’ will cut down on the time in which it is permitted to wash one’s car, or forbid the practice completely. Car wash centres may also be stopped from continuing with their activities at this level if they do not use recycled water.

Read more: France drought: can public car washes stay open despite restrictions?

Washing your car is generally not allowed once ‘crise’ level is reached. 

Can I draw water from my well? 

Not necessarily.

Water coming from wells or boreholes is subject to the same restrictions as water coming from the pipe network. 

Can I take water from my rain harvesting tank? 

Yes. 

Any collected water which has not come from underground can be used for any purpose.

Can I fill up my swimming pool?

Filling or refilling private swimming pools is generally restricted from ‘alerte’ level, and banned at ‘crise’ level. 

What do I risk if I break the rules? 

If you, as a private individual, continue to use water for non-essential purposes when restrictions are in place, you risk a fine of €1,500. 

Read more: French homes subject to drought rule checks

This can be increased to €3,000 for repeat offenders. 

Related articles 

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

How are French authorities informing people of water restrictions?

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