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

From limits on watering the garden to a complete ban on using water for anything but essential needs, we look at the rules that could be in place in your area

A drought alert is in place in at least some communes of every department in France métropolitaine Pic: J.J. Gouin / Shutterstock

Every department in France métropolitaine now has at least some communes on one of the four levels of drought alert. 

It comes after the country’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, confirmed that last month was the driest July in France since records began in 1959. 

There are four levels of drought alert in France:

Code 1 - warning (vigilance)

Code 2 - alert (alerte)

Code 3 - heightened alert (alerte renforcée)

Code 4 - crisis (crise

Departments normally have a general alert level but this can vary between communes, meaning that one town may be on Code 1 and the neighbouring town on Code 2. 

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

Read more: South-west France residents cannot water gardens for three months

You can see a detailed breakdown on the government's Propluvia drought alert website here.

These alerts are not the same as heatwave alerts, which refer to extreme temperatures over an extended period of time. Drought alerts specifically apply when there is the potential for water shortages, linked to extreme weather. 

Read more about the latest heatwave alerts in our articles here:

Heatwave alerts issued for most of France today as temperatures rise

French heatwave alert extended to include 27 departments

Code 1 - warning (vigilance)

This is the lowest alert level. Propluvia colours communes on vigilance level alert as grey. 

There are no obligatory water restrictions in place in communes at this level, but local authorities will start informing people of the potential for the drought worsening. 

At this level:

  • People and businesses are encouraged to reduce their water usage, but it is not obligatory. 
  • Information on reducing water usage and managing drought should be shared by local and departmental authorities – you may receive flyers in the mail outlining this. 

Code 2 - alert (alerte)

This alert is applied when water shortages could affect several sectors, such as drinking water, gardening, irrigation, etc. From this level onwards, water restrictions are in place. 

  • Bans could be introduced on watering gardens, green spaces or golf courses within certain hours, for example between 11:00 and 18:00
  • Bans may be introduced on washing cars within certain hours
  • Limits on watering sports fields between certain hours
  • Limits are likely to be imposed on filling or draining private swimming pools, with some exceptions, for example if it is the first time the pool is being filled ever, as long as construction on it began before the restrictions were in place.
  • Water usage for agricultural means is limited 
  • Measures are put in place to ban the opening of sluice gates

The mayors of individual communes may adjust the above rules depending on the situation, so you should check with your local mairie for more precise details. 

Code 3 - heightened alert (alerte renforcée)

This level is applied when it is not possible for water needs across all sectors to be met. Currently, there are communes on level 3 alert in 38 departments across France métropolitaine. 

The following measures apply at this level: 

  • Stricter limits on watering gardens, green spaces or golf courses, for example a ban between 09:00 and 18:00. In some cases, these acts are banned completely
  • Stricter limits on watering sports fields, for example a ban between 11:00 and 18:00
  • Stricter limits are placed on washing cars and in some cases this is banned completely
  • Limits are likely to be imposed on filling or draining private swimming pools, with some exceptions, for example if it is the first time the pool is being filled ever, as long as construction on it began before the restrictions were in place.
  • The local health authorities will decide whether public swimming pools can be filled / drained
  • Water usage for agricultural means is limited further

The mayors of individual communes may adjust the above rules depending on the situation, so you should check with your local mairie for more precise details. 

Code 4 - crisis (crise

This level is applied when the three previous levels are not sufficient to manage the situation. 

Currently, there are communes on level 4 alert in 46 departments across France métropolitaine. 

The following measures apply at this level:

  • Water use is only permitted for necessary means, including for drinking, health, civil security, cleaning
  • Ban on watering gardens or green spaces. There are sometimes exceptions for trees, bushes and vegetable gardens within certain hours
  • Stricter limits on watering golf courses, for example it will only be permitted during the night
  • Ban on watering sports fields, except in the case of elite competition
  • Ban on washing cars
  • Ban on filling or emptying private swimming pools
  • The local health authorities will decide whether public swimming pools can be filled / drained
  • Ban on water usage for most agricultural practices

The mayors of individual communes may adjust the above rules depending on the situation, so you should check with your local mairie for more precise details. 

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