France hit by drought: What you need to know about water restrictions

Here's what you need to know about the measures being taken by local authorities in France to battle low water levels.

France hit by drought: What you need to know about water restrictions
Photo: AFP
Water usage is being restricted across large parts of France as a result of the worsening drought situation affecting swathes of the country. 
The board of geological research (BRGM) estimates that three quarters, or 74 percent to be exact, of underground reservoirs are showing “moderately low to very low” levels of water. 
And to avoid these levels sinking any lower regional authorities are taking action and putting in place restrictions on water usage. 
Here's what you need to know. 
How many departments are affected?
From July 20th 68 departments have adopted at least one of the measures with 179 local orders limiting the use of water currently in place. 
The full list of affected departments can be found on a government website managed by the ministry of environment and agriculture called Propluvia
Different levels of seriousness are indicated on the site, ranging from the most serious level “Crise” (red) when water can only be used in situations considered a priority for example for health related reasons, as well as for drinking water and hygiene, to the lowest “Vigilance” (grey) when people are advised to economise their water use.  
Map: Propluvia
The two other warnings are the second highest “high alert” (orange) and the third highest simply called “alert” (yellow). 
Faced with an increasingly worrying drought situation, several local authorities took action this week including in the eastern area of Alsace on the German border and the northern Pas-de-Calais area. 
The restrictions mainly affect the industrial and agricultural industries which have been instructed to reduce their use of water by 10 percent in the northern Hauts-de-France region.
In the southwestern coastal city of La Rochelle in the department of Charente-Maritime – currently on high alert for drought – local authorities have decided to stop street cleaning and are limiting the irrigation of green spaces.
Is drought common during this time of the year?
The low levels of water estimated by the BRGM is not completely unheard of during the summer months but the organisation stresses that this doesn't mean it's not a precarious one. 
The low levels of rain during the past winter and spring combined with the recent hot temperatures seen across swathes of France have all contributed to the current state of affairs. 
How do local authorities decide on what restrictions need to be taken?
Every month a water report is published by regional environmental departments which the local authorities can then use to cross-reference with the alert levels to decide what action needs to be taken. 
Drought orders are put in place for a limited period of time and in a limited area.  
What happens if you don't follow the initiatives? 
Each local authority has police officers called “police de l'eau” who are reponsible for making sure drought orders are observed. 
If you aren't following orders these police officers can dish out penalties including a fine of €1,500 which can go as high as €3,000 for repeat offences. 


In Images: How drought has left its mark on much of France

The heatwave may have passed but the drought persists in much of France. These alarming images illustrate why a record number of French départements currently have water restrictions.

In Images: How drought has left its mark on much of France
Photos: AFP

Eighty-eight of France’s 95 metropolitan départéments are currently dealing with strict water restrictions after the hottest summer on record in many parts of l’Héxagone. 

Government agency Propluvia, which works closely with France’s Agriculture and Environment Department, published the results on Wednesday.

The départements coloured in red are where non-essential water usage for agriculture, green spaces, golf courses etc is currently prohibited. An incredible 50 départements have these limitations right now.

The départements in orange have considerable restrictions in place, the ones in yellow have moderate limitations and the grey ones are being encouraged to save water.

Among the départements that have been labelled by Propluvia as having a “water crisis”, are Creuse, Haute-Vienne and Indre in central France, Deux-Sevres slightly further west and Gers in the southwest.

But the drought’s damaging effects are visible across many other parts of the country: river banks have dried up, lakes have shrunk and crops, flora and fauna have perished.

The following photos offer insight into the most widespread drought in France in modern records. 

Horses attempt to graze in this dried up field in Bastelicaccia, southern Corsica. There are no water restrictions in place as there has been rainfall in the French Mediterranean island this summer, but areas to the east and far south have been badly hit by drought. 

Beziers, Hérault
A photo taken near the southern town of Beziers in Occitanie shows thousands of dead fish, killed by drought’s effects on the Orbs river.

Hérault departement has been given an orange alert, with reports that local olive production has dropped by 70 percent due to ‘la secheresse’ (drought in French).

This département in east central France is situated between the two rivers it gets its name from. But as Yannick Morey explains in this tweet, “Saone-et-Loire has been badly hit by the drought…at a time when the prairies should be green and the mushrooms should be growing fiercely, this is the image.


Bourges, Yèvre

Here are before and after images of the droughts effects on Val d’Auron lake in Bourges, a city in central France. 

The second image, taken from a drone video by YouTuber Patrick Brousse, shows just how badly the lake has dried up due to evaporation during the scorching summer months. 

Bourges town hall had to cancel paddle and sailing activities at the end of August as a result. Considerable water restrictions are in place across the département of Yèvre.


One of the “water crisis” départements of central France and the following images reflect why. The first photo shows a group of mussels stuck to the cracked up, dry land that was once under water. The second shows a cow struggling to graze near-barren land.

The situation is so serious in Creuse and neighbouring Correze that there are even restrictions on tap water. Local officials have given residents 16,000 bottles of mineral water to help them overcome the shortages.  


The Loire River has suffered greatly during this summer’s months of extreme heat.

In Montjean-sur-Loire, where this striking photo of a fish carcass on the dehydrated riverbed was taken, local residents are in shock having never seen anything like it.

Sandbanks occupy three quarters of the width of the Loire and the water level is well below the “zero” on the scale, fluctuating between -2m04 and -2m15. 

We end with this video by water management official Bertrand Gonthiez, a reminder of how easy it is for water to be wasted when it is needed most. 

Spécialiste de la gestion de l'#eau et de l'#environnement. Auteur aux Éditions #Eyrolles. Référent #LaREMA

A reminder of how easy it is for water to be wasted. 



Maine-et-Loire, western France