Q&A: Just how bad is the drought situation in France?

French local governments have already imposed water restrictions in some regions of France after drought has hit. But it never seems to stop raining. Where has all the water gone?

Q&A: Just how bad is the drought situation in France?
Illustration photo: The cracked soil of the bed of the Brenet Lake in September 2018. AFP

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink – what’s going on with French water?

France, and particularly the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France has been experiencing a particularly wet and wintery spring. May has so far been a month of deluging rainfall and even hailstorms. However, there have been critical drought notices issued already. And it is still over a month until summer officially begins.

On May 14th, François de Rugy, Minister for Ecological Transition, and Secretary of State Emmanuelle Wargon, had a meeting with the National Water Committee. And there was just one topic on the agenda: this summer’s drought arriving earlier than expected.


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

What areas are most at risk?

In 11 departments, mainly in a belt across central France, measures have already been taken to officially restrict water due to scarcity.

The Indre is on red alert – the highest drought warning. The Pyrénées-Orientales and Vienne are on orange alert. The north region, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Deux-Sèvres, Creuse, Rhône, Ain, and Isère have a basic level alert. And six other departments have also been issued warnings.

What has caused this?

Drought occurs when the amount of rain is significantly less than normal over a fairly long period of time. When rainfall is lacking in winter or spring, it prevents the proper filling of groundwater (“reserves” of water) that usually occurs at this time of year.

And groundwater levels are now abnormally low. Yes, it has rained exceptionally for May and the earth feels wet and sodden and vegetation is abundantly exploding, but it’s all a ruse. This is just surface water and there is a critical lack of it down below.

February was a particularly dry month and, by spring, plants were already running out of water. Recent rains have meant that some farmers haven’t needed to irrigate crops, but it is not enough to make up for the water shortage.

“We've been in this same situation for the past two or three years. We start spring with a water deficit,” says Georges Cornuez, who works in green zones in Lentilly (Rhône). “There is also more and more wind, and that doesn't help.”

French rain in numbers:

France receives about 400 billion m3 of rainwater each year, two-thirds of which evaporates. The remaining 175 billion m3 is used to supply surface and groundwater.

The flow of France's rivers has remained reasonably stable over the past few decades, though the level of lake has clearly dropped in recent years. And the amount of water in groundwater can vary depending on the level of withdrawal and renewal rate of groundwater.

Photo: richlonardo/Depositphotos

Is this any different to previous years?

According to the Ministry for Ecological Transition, this year France has a 17 percent rainfall deficit compared to a normal year. “We know that we are likely to have problems with water every year now because of climate change,” says Wargon.

She believes that there has to be an urgent improvement in water management in France.

“How do we best share resources? How do we allow water retention but not under any conditions and how can we save more money? These are the key questions we need to address,” says the minister, who says she is preparing a medium- and also a long-term roadmap.

What’s the outlook for summer? Hosepipe ban?

Well, it looks pretty arid.

“We have no water for the summer. Vegetation grows as fast as it rains and in fact it consumes all this rain. This means any new water can’t get down to the groundwater table,” explains Stéphane Peillet, a cereal farmer and vice-president in charge of water management at the Chamber of Agriculture.

“We are currently collecting from the Jonage canal to bring water from the Rhône to avoid farmers being dependent on the water table. The idea is to leave that water for other uses, drinking water, industry.”

Add into this the weather predictions from now until July. Météo-France's forecasts are not very reassuring. Temperatures from May to July over metropolitan France look set to be above normal. The French government is already preparing for a drought.

Fill up your saucepans.

French words to know 

Drought – la sécheresse

Rainfall – la hauteur de précipitations

Groundwater – les eaux souterraines

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What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.