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ENVIRONMENT

IN PICS: See how Lake Annecy’s water levels have dropped to lowest in 70 years

Lake Annecy is one of the most idyllic spots in France with holidaymakers flocking there throughout the year but there's a problem at the country's most popular lake... and it's all to do with the water dropping to its lowest level in 70 years.

IN PICS: See how Lake Annecy's water levels have dropped to lowest in 70 years
Photo: AFP
Lake Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France is fed by mountain springs and known for its clean water. 
 
As a result, tourists flock there throughout the year to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and, weather permitting, to take a dip. 
 
But that might not be the case for much longer at least if the current situation lasts.  
 
At the moment, Lake Annecy has the lowest water levels ever seen, with some spots measuring just 20 cm of water compared to its normal level for this time of year of 80 cm. 
 
The water levels are at their lowest since 1947. 
 
In fact, according to a report in Europe 1, even by standing 200 meters away from the shore the water is only likely to reach most people's thighs and boats and pedalos are stranded on the sand. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Photo: AFP
 
And experts believe that levels could fall even further, with some estimating another drop of 10 cm in the next few days. 
 
So, why is it happening?
 
Well, it seems there are two causes. 
 
The first is the hot summer temperatures seen this year and the second the absence of heavy rains in the alpine region. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
In the meantime, it's not only swimmers who are having to adapt to the new conditions but those who work on the lake too. 
 
“It's about 70 centimeters short of water in some areas, so we have to send the boats over 200 meters to get them going because the engines touch the bottom [of the lake],” Romain, who runs a boat rental company, told Europe 1. 
 
Photo: Screengrab/Le Dauphine
 
And scientists are concerned too. 
 
“It's not just Lake Annecy,” said Gianluigi, a geographer from Switzerland. “All the alpine lakes are concerned, which is worrying, not only for the lakes themselves, but for the entire hydrological network that is linked to them.”
 
According to the geographer, the problems with droughts of this type will become more and more common. 
 
“It is one of the markers of the global warming,” he said.
 
To put it in context, even after the infamous heatwave of 2003, which killed 15,000 mostly elderly people across the country, the waters had not dropped so low. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Photo: Video screengrab/Le Dauphine
 
But while some scientists and environmentalists are worried about what the wider implications of the lowering waters are, others have said the situation isn't all bad. 
 
Not everything is negative especially for the reed beds “which will be exposed and whose sediments will be regenerated, remineralized: the plants will be stimulated”, environmentalist Damien Zanella told the French press.
 
But Zanella admits that the drought “is a disaster “for aquatic wildlife”.
 
Photo: AFP
 
In the meantime, some residents of the alpine town are enjoying the situation. 
 
“We've never seen it like this in Annecy,” said Julie, who has lived in Annecy her whole life. It's really nice because it means we have a beach in the middle of town. We've even been finding shells!”
 
Five French words to know
 
le chaleur – the heat
 
le niveau – the level
 
un lac – the lake
 
baisser – to lower/to decrease 
 
la sécheresse – dryness/drought

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ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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