France is experiencing its “driest winter since 1959” with a set of water restrictions and water saving measures expected to be introduced early next month (March), the ecology minister has said.
Christophe Béchu said in an interview: “France is in a state of alert.”
It comes after parts of the country have had no significant rainfall for 31 days and this is worsened by the fact it is in winter, a time when usually the groundwater supplies should be being replenished ready for the hotter months ahead.
The minister is set to hold a committee meeting, with prefects present, on Monday (February 27) to address the situation and what can be done.
He said: “We’re going to look at it area by area to see where we are.” He added that the country could be subject to ‘soft’ restrictions so as “to avoid catastrophic situations” come the summer.
He called on residents to make efforts to save water from now onwards, especially when it comes to activities such as car washing and the filling of swimming pools.
Read also: Why the month of March will be decisive for droughts in France
‘Big water plan’ with around 50 measures
He said that a “big water plan” with around 50 measures will be presented over the next few days. One strategy said to be under consideration is to relax the rules around using rainwater in homes, which is currently subject to strict regulations. This could be used, for example, for flushing toilets instead of drinking water, as now.
The minister also said that he “wants people to use more already-used water”. This involves water being reused directly after it is treated, such as for agriculture and watering golf courses, rather than being released back into rivers or the sea. Less than 1% of France’s water comes from reused wastewater, compared to 8% in Italy, 14% in Spain, and 80% in Israel.
The plan is to get people to exercise “water sobriety” in the same way as they have with energy restrictions. Raising public awareness around water shortages is a key pillar of the new plan and
Mr Béchu has previously revealed that they are working on a digital platform that will allow people to see when there is strain on the network in their area, similar to Ecowatt for electricity.
Government spokesperson Olivier Véran confirmed the announcement during a cabinet meeting.
Currently, eight departments are subject to water restrictions of varying degrees depending on the area. Four departments are on high alert: Ille-et-Vilaine, Jura, Savoie and Lozère.
Other departments have also introduced restrictions. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, for example, the prefecture has banned people from watering the lawn and vegetable gardens from 8:00 to 20:00, washing their cars and filling swimming pools.
You can check water shortages in your area at the official website Propluvia.
What about farmers?
Water table levels have been of particular concern to climate experts in recent months. Mr Béchu said that the country was two months behind when it comes to the refilling of groundwater levels.
He said: “It’s possible to catch up but we really need a rainy March; we have two months ahead of us.”
Amid talk of restrictions, Mr Béchu sought to reassure farmers. He said: “There is no farming without water. It would be hypocritical to stop farmers from producing if we then need to import food.”
It comes after environmental experts warned in January that the country was already facing a ‘very dry year’ in 2023, after high temperatures and low rainfall in 2022. Earlier this month, forecasters said that March would be ‘make or break’ for the country.
Drought in France: 2023 set to be ‘very dry year’ and it starts now