France drought: can public car washes stay open despite restrictions?

One reader in a drought ‘crisis’ department asks why residents are asked to reduce their water use while car wash centres remain open for business

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Reader question: Our department Lot is one of many currently at 'crisis level' regarding water shortages and we are told that water should only be used for the most 'essential' reasons.

However, it is very obvious that the owners of public car wash facilities are blatantly ignoring these rules as we regularly see people wasting vast amounts of water washing their cars. Is this not a fineable offence or is washing your car considered to be an 'essential necessity'?

The department of Lot (Occitanie) is indeed on the maximum drought alert level, ‘crisis’ as the government website Propluvia shows. This means that the majority of communes in the department are facing extreme water shortages, although alert levels vary by commune so not all will be on maximum alert.

The Lot préfecture states on its website that one of the measures it is recommending is for people to not wash their cars at home, although it adds that this recommendation does not impact public car washes.

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

A spokesperson for the préfecture told The Connexion that while this measure is only recommended at departmental level, the mairies of individual communes are free to take extra steps, such as banning washing cars at home or closing public car washes.

The owner of a public car wash located near Cahors confirmed to The Connexion that he was open for business as usual, despite the drought.

Another measure available to local authorities is to close public car washes that do not have a system of using recycled water.

Certain car washes in France have this system, which allows them to cut down massively on water waste.

The recommendations published by the Lot préfecture do not mention any specifics about car washes with a water recycling system.

The car wash in our reader’s area is most likely operating within the law, as frustrating as that may be considering the advice for people to personally cut back on water usage.

The spokesperson at the prefecture advised contacting the local mairie to ask for more details.

Lot’s préfecture also makes the following recommendations to people:

  • Avoid washing roads or pavements, except for priority reasons related to public health
  • Avoid filling or refilling private swimming pools
  • Avoid watering gardens with sprinklers, automatic watering devices or with hoses
  • Avoid watering lawns
  • Avoid using water to clean terraces or exterior property walls that are not under construction

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