10 French départments on alert for drought as early heatwave forecast

This week's uncommonly early heatwave has placed 10 French départements on alert for drought.

10 French départments on alert for drought as early heatwave forecast
Drought ground in Bastelicaccia, Corsica in August 2021. (Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP)

With temperatures reaching up to 30C in some parts of France this week, experts warn that the heatwave, remarkably early for the summer season, could bring on drought.

As a result, water restrictions have been put into place for 10 French départements, with a 15 total under close observation.

Drought alerts and water restrictions are common in France over the summer, but this is unusually early.

The 10 départments who have risen above the threshold for ‘alert’ are Maine-et-Loire, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime, Charente, Ain, Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse.

A map provided by the Environment Ministry showing zones impacted by water restrictions.

The map by Propluvia shows départements based on grey, yellow, orange, and red. Grey zones (“vigilance”) are to be monitored, whereas yellow zones have risen to the threshold of requiring water restrictions.

These might include specified times for watering the garden or washing the car. Golf courses and public green spaces such as parks will also have restrictions on water usage, and farmers will have water restrictions in place up to three days a week.

If an area is shaded orange, that means it is considered a “reinforced alert zones.” This would mean cutting water usage by at least 50 percent for agricultural purposes (the equivalent of about 3.5 days a week), and implementing stronger limitations on citizens’ water usage for gardens, green spaces, golf courses, or car washing.

Red zones have reached the point of “crisis,” meaning a full stop to non-priority water usage. If a zone also has stripes, that means there is a specific alert regarding groundwater.

READ MORE: MAP: Where in France has water restrictions in place

After an already dry year, the fourth driest in France since 1959, experts worry the heat will accentuate already dry soil, which is cause for concern for French farmers.

Ten days of summer heat, at this time of year “is quite rare” said climate specialist Paul Marquis to French daily Le Parisien.  In fact, some regions will experience between temperatures of eight to 10C higher than average seasonal temperatures. In total, thus far in 2022 in France, it has rained 35 percent less than last year.

However, this early heat wave is not specific to France. Many other parts of the world are experiencing similar weather patterns, with at least 20 million people in East Africa at risk of famine.

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Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

Warming sea temperatures are bringing more spider crabs to France's coastline, which could spell disaster for the French mussel industry.

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

You may not be able to see it from land, but underwater, an invasive species of spider crabs are ravaging the mussel population on the Western coast of France.

In Normandy and Brittany, mussel farmers are struggling to control the expanding spider crab population – which normally migrates onward, but has stayed put on France’s coasts.

Experts believe the crabs, who feast on mussels and all manner of shellfish, have not continued in their migration due to warming water temperatures, as a result of the climate crisis.

This has left French mussel farmers worried that if the crab population is not controlled, then mussel production could end in the region within a decade. 

Some mussel farmers, like David Dubosco, have lost a significant amount of mussels in just the last year. Dubosco told TF1 that in 2022 he lost at least 150 tonnes.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of moules-frites in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Dubosco is not alone in his experience. According to reporting by TF1, production across the board will be lower this year 2022, which means that the number of mussels imported from other countries will likely increase, a decision that will not be popular with French consumers who prefer homegrown mussels to make the classic moules-frites.

The proliferation of the spider crabs has been an ongoing problem for the last six years, but due to warming waters, more and more have stayed in French waters.

The crabs do not have many predators besides humans – as they are edible, but the supply has begun to outweigh demand. Additionally, the crabs have grown so big that traditional cages used to trap them are no longer effective, according to Actu France.

On September 21st, over 80 mussel producers staged a demonstration in front of the Manche préfecture in Saint-Lô to demand further measures against this invasive species.

“We have seen the proliferation of spider crabs and our alerts have gone unheeded by the administrative authorities. The species comes to feed on our stocks,” said Vincent Godefroy, head of the “Group of mussel farmers on bouchot” (Groupement des mytiliculteurs sur bouchot) to Actu France. 

In response, the Manche prefecture met with six representatives from the group, eventually publishing a a statement saying it would allow “for the experimentation of new measures” to combat the crabs, which would include dragging them out to sea.

Additionally, government actors and mussel farmers will work together this autumn to conduct a study on the economic value of spider crabs with goals of building up a new industry. The assessment will be made in November.