France prepares for drought as 11 departments on alert

Departments across France are implementing water restriction and alert levels in anticipation of drought

France is already preparing for the threat of drought this summer, with 11 departments having already taken water restriction measures, and one department - Indre - on the most severe “crisis/red” level.

Two more - Vienne and the Pyrénées-Orientales - are on the second-most severe “high/orange alert”.

Eight departments - Nord, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Creuse, Rhône, Ain and Isère - are on the mid-level “alert/yellow” stage. A further six - Pas-de-Calais, Oise, Cantal, Savoie, Drôme, and Gard - are on the first alert level of “vigilance/grey”.

Emmanuelle Wargon, secretary of State for the ecology minister, said: “[Water restriction levels] allow us to follow levels more closely, and to raise awareness among [water] users of what a reasonable usage level is.”

At surface level, the earth appears to be damp and vegetation is flourishing. Yet, on a deeper level - under the ground, which is sometimes referred to as the “water table” or “groundwater” - there is not enough.

Georges Cornuez, a green space worker in Lentilly (Rhône), said: “When I first started working in the 1980s, we did not have this problem. In March, it used to do nothing but rain. Now, it is not like that. For the past two or three years we have been in a similar situation; starting the spring with a deficit of water.”

This year, the month of February was particularly dry, followed by a warm spring so far. Recent rainfall has helped, but it was not enough to compensate for the existing lack.

Stéphane Peillet, a farmer, and vice-president in charge of water at the chamber of agriculture, said: “Vegetation grows as quickly as it rains, and consumes all of the water from the rain, without it being able to go into the groundwater table.

“We do not have enough water for summer. Right now we are looking to the Jonage canal to bring water from the Rhone, to avoid being dependent on groundwater, and to leave it to other uses such as drinking water or industry.”

(FranceInfo / francetvinfo.fr / Screenshot)

Other regions are also struggling; the Garonne river - which supplies 1.5 million inhabitants and irrigates 100,000 hectares of land - is twice as low as usual for the month of May.

Farmers say that a lack of water means a lack of ability to grow hay for their animals, meaning that this could store up food problems in future.

David Eychenne, Gascon cow farmer in the Ariège, said: “It is really time to be making hay, but it will be low, because there isn’t much out there. It will be a problem for stock levels. We will lack material, that is becoming obvious. It seems as though we are going to have dryer, less typical seasons.”

According to secretary of state Ms Wargon, France saw 17% less rain this year compared to an average, “normal year”.

The ecology minister’s office is currently preparing a report on the issue,
and is calling for improved water management system, and for more ways to save water in all conditions in France.

Ms Wargon said: “We know that we are likely to have tensions over water every year now due to climate change. So, how can we share resources better? How can we save water in all conditions?”

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