[Article updated on August 3 at 13:30 with further information about the impact of the drought on agricultural land.]
French authorities have carried out 4,000 checks related to drought restriction rules since May, the Office français de la biodiversité (OFB) has reported.
Of these checks, 400 have resulted in ‘procedures’, which could be anything from an official warning to a fine.
Many of the checks are likely to have been on larger-scale businesses, factories or farms, but many others were related to private homes.
Currently, every department in France métropolitaine now has at least some communes on one of the four levels of drought alert. These levels range from ‘vigilance’ to ‘crisis’, and different rules are in place depending on the level.
At the lowest level, authorities will simply try to inform the public about the dangers of drought and ask them to try to cut down on water usage. At the highest level, strict bans on watering grass or plants, filling swimming pools, washing cars, etc. are introduced.
Loïc Obled, head of the ‘police, knowledge and expertise’ department of the OFB, said that checks will be ongoing this summer as the weather forecast shows that water shortages will continue.
“There are indeed many controls at the moment and we are doing more and more,” he told Franceinfo on Tuesday (August 2).
“We carried out about 500 controls in May, 2,000 controls last week and we dedicated the week that has just passed to a major national education and control operation.”
He said that fines for an individual are set at €1,500 or €3,000 for repeat offences. For businesses, this fine can go up to €7,000.
But he admitted that it is not possible to monitor everyone and be everywhere.
“We have about 15 people in each department.
“Every department is different so we have a differentiated strategy.
“We try to prioritise according to the importance of the issues at stake. It can be water for domestic use, for collective use, for industrial use or for agricultural irrigation. As a general rule, these are things that are fairly easy to see.”
But he said that his team placed more importance on informing the population about the rules, rather than resorting to fines or legal procedures.
“We try to announce our checks in advance, to be visible on the ground.
“When we see that there is an offence, in agreement with the public prosecutor, we can either educate and inform the person or, when people are a bit less cooperative, proceed with a fine.”
Last month was the driest July in France since records began in 1959, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, has confirmed.
It is linked to soaring temperatures which have led to three heatwaves being declared this since June.
Farmers struggle with restrictions
Some farmers have risked continuing to irrigate their fields despite restrictions, with one telling France Bleu Loire Océan: "I need to irrigate if I want to have food for my cows."
Another told France Bleu Poitou that he has already been fined several times, but that he must water his sunflowers or they will be spoiled.
Farmers in Haute-Saône have appealed to the government for greater aid.