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‘You have to change your lifestyle’: tips to cut water usage in France

As water restrictions are declared across France, people are being advised on how to cut back on their consumption

A photo of a woman turning off a tap to save water

Drought alerts and water restrictions are in place across much of France Pic: T.Dallas / Shutterstock

The month of July 2022 was the driest on record since 1959, and there have been three heatwaves so far this summer, Météo France has said.

A fourth heatwave is now currently underway in France and is set to last all week

As the dry heat adds to an already-high drought risk, water restrictions have been introduced for much of the country.

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

The mayor of a commune in Ain, Arboys-de-Bugey, has even taken the decision to cut off the water to his residents between 08:30 and 11:00, and 14:00 and 19:00. 

One resident said that it has required him to change his routine a little, but that it is worth it to save water during a drought period.

He told “We have to think about how we act. Turning on the tap is not a benign gesture. I cook normally at lunchtime, and I take a shower in the evening.”

However, one resident was against the idea of cutting off water. She said: “I think that it’s not an adequate or well-thought-out solution. For us, it’s really restrictive and I find that we actually consume more water [because we save it] when it’s cut off than when it isn’t.”

Residents in other communes may wish to save water to avoid the chance of their supply being cut off completely.

Bruno De Grissac, director of the Gironde department union for water resources, (SMEGREG), told “It requires some motivation. You have to change your lifestyle.”

Mr De Grissac has said that the goal is to change behaviour long-term, so that “all the good actions do not get forgotten come the first rainfall in autumn”.

He said that raising awareness of water issues can be effective; in Gironde, “the population has increased by 300,000 in the past 20 years, but the amount of water we take from the water table has remained the same”.

Here are some of his tips to save water

Reuse water

Reusing water is a major way to save. You can use the water you wash your salad in or cook your pasta in to water your plants, for example.

Similarly, you can collect water from your shower in a tub, and use it to wash dishes or water plants.

Put bottles in your toilet cistern

Fill two or three water bottles with water and place them inside your toilet cistern. That way, your cistern will require less water to refill itself and will use less water per flush.

Use water mindfully when washing

Showering saves water compared to having a bath, the environmental protection agency Organisation Mondiale pour la Protection de l'environnement (OMPE) has said, with 200 litres used for a bath compared to 60-80 for the average shower. 

People are advised not to linger too long in the shower for even more savings.

Similarly, turning the tap off while brushing your teeth can save 1,000 litres per year, the WWF has said.

Dishwashers are more economical with water compared to manual washing up if there are several people in the household, and even if you must do all your washing up by hand, it is better to fill a tub with water rather than leaving the tap on throughout.

Householders are also advised to check for any dripping taps or slow leaks, as they could waste water over several days or even weeks.

Install a tap aerator

A tap aerator is a small, inexpensive device that screws onto the tap outlet, to regulate the flow of water.

Mr De Grissac describes it as the “water version of a low-energy light bulb”. 

They tend to cost around €5, and can save up to 50% of the water consumption from the tap per year.

The WWF says that you can also install a ‘flow limiter’, which, when used in combination with an aerator, provides enough water for hand washing and rinsing. 

You can also buy water-saving and energy-saving showerheads that achieve a similar result for showers.

Farmer fears

It comes as some farmers across the country are choosing to continue watering their crops despite the restrictions, at the risk of heavy sanctions. 

Some fear that the lack of water could cause them to lose everything. 

Pascal Ribreau, one of 110 farmers in Charente-Maritime who has admitted to watering his crops despite a prefectural decree against it, told FranceInfo: “We have to feed our family, we have extra charges to pay, which have increased due to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s not good, we know, but we did it.”

Mr Ribreau has had his farming equipment confiscated as a result, after three months of ‘illegal’ watering.

Patrick Picaud, from the France Nature Environnement NGO, said that farmers should have prepared for the heat, and regretted that some had been caught out.

He said: “Since the month of February, we have been getting major alerts that this season was going to be very hard. People needed to avoid growing crops that would require lots of water in the summer.”

Read more: French homes subject to drought rule checks 

French authorities have carried out more than 4,000 ‘drought checks’ on homes across the country as a result of the restrictions. Anyone found in breach of the measures risks being issued with an official warning, or a fine.

Related articles

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

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

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