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Water restrictions in place: how bad is the drought risk in France?

15 departments are already on alert with temperatures expected to reach up to 31°C today 

As temperatures rise ahead of summer, there are concerns over the potential for drought in France Pic: Dorian Liu / Shutterstock

People in France are being encouraged to save water where possible as drought concerns grow across the country. 

Some 15 departments are already on drought warnings or alerts following a particularly dry winter. When a department is placed under an alert, it means that people in specific areas are required to reduce their water usage for non-essential purposes. 

Drought alerts are currently affecting parts of: Maine-et-Loire, Loire-Atlantique, Loiret, Var, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Ain, Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse, where the rain deficit is at 70%. 

Ille-et-Vilaine and Indre are also under warnings. 

“It is each individual who must pay attention to the water [they are using], to not wasting it pointlessly,” said Violaine Bault, a hydrologist at the Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières (BRGM) government agency. 

“The replenishment [of water tables] was in deficit this winter. So, a large proportion of them are now below normal levels,” she told Franceinfo

She added that the situation is “very varied” across different regions, with water tables in the south west, Occitanie and the north faring better, while others – most notably in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and around Charente – are in a “worrying” state.

“We are already seeing the consequences, with prefectural decrees restricting water usage. And it should be noted that the majority of large water tables in France regulate the flow of water ways. 

“So during the summer, when it does not rain, if there is still water in streams and rivers it is because it is coming from underground. So if the water tables are at low levels, they struggle to feed water ways, which dwindle and have an impact on fauna and flora. 

Even if France received significant amounts of rainfall next week, it would be “already too late” to have an effect on the water table, Ms Bault added, although it would save farmers from having to irrigate their land. 

A situation not helped by this week’s hot weather 

France’s dry soils are not being helped by the 25-30°C temperature averages which are being felt across the country this week. 

Read more: 25°C in the north, 30°C in the south: Hot weather arrives in France

Today (Wednesday, May 11)  is set to be the hottest day of the week, with temperatures creeping up to 30°C nationwide, settling at 29°C in Bordeaux, 28°C in Lyon and Tours and 27°C in Paris.

Bourgogne and the Pyrenean foothills could see temperatures of 31-32°C. 

The day will start off cloudy between Pays de Loire and Poitou-Charentes but the skies will soon clear for a sunny afternoon. From the Atlantic coast up to the English Channel, the greyness may linger for longer. 

This week’s weather is expected to continue into the weekend and perhaps into next week, exacerbating a dryness which is already causing problems for farmers across the country. 

The lack of water, paired with the heat, will “impact cereal production,” the agriculture ministry has warned. “Winter crops which are currently in their development phase are beginning to see situations which will affect their yield.” 

France has just had its driest start to the year since 2012. Between September 2021 and April 2022, France’s rainfall deficit was estimated to be 19%, while the water table deficit was at 20%, according to the ecological transition ministry.

Ministers have therefore decided to boost the government’s €20million climate fund for farmers by a further €20million.

How do drought warnings and restrictions work?

Vigilance’ (or ‘warning’) is the lowest level of drought restriction in France, and involves raising awareness and encouraging individuals to reduce their water usage. 

The next level is ‘alert’, which leads to a reduction in the amount of water which can be used for farming and for watering green spaces such as golf courses.

This is followed by ‘reinforced alert’, which tightens the above restrictions and could also lead to some usages being temporarily banned. 

The final restriction level is ‘crisis’, under which water may only be used for essential reasons such as drinking, cooking or washing. 

In times of drought, the ministry of agriculture can decide to recognise a state of “agricultural calamity” and compensate farmers for up to 30% of their ruined crops.

You can find further details of the drought warnings and/or restrictions in place around France on the ecology ministry’s Propluvia website. You can also find out about the restrictions in place in your department by visiting the website of your prefecture.

How can I help to save water? 

You can save water by: 

  • Making sure not to leave taps running 
  • Not washing your car and limiting watering your garden 
  • Putting your washing machine and dishwasher into eco mode 
  • Collect any rainwater that does fall to later water your garden 

Related articles 

Water restrictions on way for south-east France in early drought alert

Homes evacuated: Dry weather leads to multiple wildfires across France

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