Two more departments on drought alert after France’s record dry period

Drôme and Ardèche have been particularly affected by a lack of rainfall over the winter

Drôme (R) and Ardèche (L) are both in the Rhône basin, which has been particularly affected by the lack of rainfall in the past months
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Two more departments in France – Drôme and Ardèche – have been put on early drought alert after a particularly dry winter.

France’s ecology ministry made the announcements this week and are aimed at avoiding major water shortages this summer.

The departments join the Pyrénées-Orientales, which is almost completely on alert, while Ain, Bouches-du-Rhône, and Var are on reinforced alert.

Savoie and Yvelines are also on partial alerts for drought with the Alpes-Maritimes expected to join shortly.

It comes as the ministry is also set to announce countrywide plans to encourage people to save water, and remind them of ways to do so.

Drôme and Ardèche -- in south-east France -- are both in the Rhône basin, which has been particularly affected by both the exceptionally dry summer and the rainfall deficit experienced in France so far this winter (until this week).

Read more: Northern France on alert for snow, ice, and high winds on Wednesday

The lack of rain has meant that underground water tables have not been replenished as normal.

Almost 80% of underground water tables in mainland France were below normal levels in February, showed data from the Bureau des recherches géologiques et minières (BRGM), unveiled by Ecology Minister Christophe Béchu.

Once spring arrives, any rainfall is soaked up by growing vegetation, meaning that the ground will receive even less water. This is why some departments have issued alerts now, before spring begins.

Five other departments have this week passed (or are expected to pass soon) into a pre-alert stage, meaning that they could be next on the list for water restrictions. These are Yvelines, Corrèze, Vaucluse, Sarthe, and Alpes-Maritimes, alongside Savoie, which was already at this stage.

Mr Béchu said in a meeting with all prefecture heads: “At the end of this week, there will be 12, rather than five, departments affected by alert measures, but of course, the situation may continue to change.”

It comes after the minister already called on all prefects to take water-saving measures “from now”, in February.

Read more: Bring in water restrictions from now, French prefects told

Read more: Water restrictions set to launch as France faces chronic lack of rain

This week, he said: “There will be more communication on this subject from mid-April, to remind the public to do what they can.”

He added that each person in France uses on average 149 litres of water per day.

Another evaluation on the subject is set for March 15.

In the meantime, the weather office Météo France has forecast snow in northern France, bringing the uninterrupted dry weather to an end.

To see more about current water restrictions in France, visit the official government website. You can also check water shortages in your area on the website Propluvia.

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