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MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

All of France's metropolitan départements currently have water restrictions in place. Here's how to find out what restrictions are in place in your area, and what that means for everyday life.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

As of Tuesday, August 11th, 93 of France’s mainland départements have some level of drought alert in place, including the Paris region. Of these alerts, 68 are at the highest ‘crise‘ (red) level. 

The government’s Propluvia website has a map showing areas where restrictions are in place which is regularly updated as restriction levels change, although local authorities can also impose their own extra restrictions (see below).

READ ALSO: Ask the expert: Why is France’s drought so bad and what will happen next?

However, water restrictions are not put in place on a département level, as the map below shows, so first you need to work out whether your local area is at vigilance, alerte, alerte renforcée or crise level. 

The map below shows the restrictions as of August 11th, 2022.

Photo credit: Propluvia

There are four main drought alert levels:

Vigilance (grey on the map): the lowest alert level, involving raising awareness and encouraging individuals to reduce water usage (see below for some tips), but no activities are actually banned.

This level signifies that a more serious water shortage is likely in the coming weeks without significant rain.

Alerte (yellow): a full water supply for all normal daily activities can no longer be assured.

Limits on agricultural and nautical water usage are in place.

For private households, watering of lawns, sports fields, flower beds and vegetable gardens is also prohibited between 11am and 6pm and the filling and emptying of private pools (over 1 cubic meter) is prohibited except for refilling/topping up or a first filling “if the work had begun before the first restrictions”. 

Public swimming pools are open without restrictions.

Alerte renforcée (orange): a full water supply can no longer be guaranteed.

Farmers must reduce their water consumption by 50 percent and all daytime watering is banned, as are sprinklers. The watering of sports fields and golf courses is strictly limited.

For private households the watering of lawns and flower beds is prohibited. Vegetable gardens may only be watered between 8pm and 9am.

The filling and emptying of private pools (over 1 cubic meter) is prohibited except for refilling/topping up or a first filling “if the work had begun before the first restrictions”. 

Public swimming pools may be closed, at the discretion of the local health authority.

Crise (red): A ban on any non-priority use, including agricultural purposes. Water may only be used for essential reasons – health, civil security, drinking and sanitation.

Farmers are forbidden to irrigate their crops with sprinkler systems and sports fields and gold courses can only be watered if they are being used for national or international level competition.

Public swimming pools can only be refilled with the express permission of local health authorities and private swimming pools cannot be refilled. 

Private households can only use water for essential reasons such as drinking, cooking or washing.

Local restrictions

At each alert level, local préfectures and mairies can introduce extra restrictions if it is thought necessary.

In Haute-Corse, the region in the north of Corsica, local authorities have warned that if current water consumption habits continue as they are, then the area will ‘run out of water within 25 days.’ As a result, they have extended some restrictions to include non-tap water as well as tap water.

Meanwhile hundreds of villages have either run out of water altogether, or local authorities have imposed rationing on a commune level because of dangerously low local supplies. 

If this is the case in your area, you will be contacted by the mairie to advise you of the new rules. In areas where the tap water supply has failed, it is also the responsibility of the mairie to distribute bottled water to households. 

Most restrictions concern only l’eau potable (tap water) but some also include l’eau brute – which is untreated water such as water from a well on your property.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is water likely to be rationed as France’s drought worsens?

Record drought

France experienced its driest July on record since 1959 – there was just 9.7 millimetres of rain in July, Météo France said.

That was 84 percent down on the average levels seen for July between 1991 and 2022, and made it the second driest month since March 1961, the agency added. 

As early as May 13th, the government was advising residents to cut water use as much as possible by making sure taps were turned off when not in use, and limiting the amount of water they used on their garden

Water-saving tips

Even in areas on a low level of alert, the Environment Ministry is asking everyone to make an effort to save water and has released the following tips:

  • Turn off taps, and don’t let them drip;
  • Limit the amount of tap water used on gardens – install containers to collect and store rainwater to use instead;
  • Install water-saving equipment;
  • Take a shower instead of a bath;
  • Repair water leaks;
  • Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher half empty.

The above are all suggestions, rather than rules so you don’t need to worry about the mayor coming round to check whether you’re having a shower or a bath.

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France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

French prosecutors said on Friday they would investigate the appearance of vast quantities of tiny toxic plastic pellets along the Atlantic coast that endanger marine life and the human food chain.

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

The criminal probe will follow several legal complaints about the pellet invasion lodged by local authorities and the central government in Paris, Camille Miansoni, chief prosecutor in the western city of Brest, told AFP.

The microscopic pellets, called nurdles, are the building blocks for most of the world’s plastic production, from car bumpers to salad bowls.

They are usually packed in bags of 25 kilogrammes for transport, each containing around a million nurdles, which are sometimes called “Mermaids’ Tears”. 

But they can easily spill into the ocean when a cargo ship sinks or loses a container. Environmentalists also suspect that factories sometimes dump them into the sea.

Fish and birds often mistake them for food and, once ingested, the tiny granules can make their way into the diet of humans.

Experts told AFP the nurdles found along the coast of Brittany may have come from a plastic industry container that fell into the sea.

“We can’t rule out a single source for the industrial pellets,” said Nicolas Tamic at the CEDRE pollution research body in Brest.

On Tuesday, the French government filed a legal complaint against persons unknown and called for a international search for any containers that may have been lost at sea.

Local authorities have followed suit, and the environmental crime branch of the Brest prosecutor’s office will lead the investigation.

Last weekend, around 100 people took part in a clean-up campaign on a microplastic-infested beach in Pornic in Brittany to collect pellets and draw attention to the problem. 

“We think they’ve come from a container that may have been out there for a while and opened up because of recent storms,” said Lionel Cheylus, spokesman for the NGO Surfrider Foundation.

“Our action is symbolic. It’s not like we’re going to pick up an entire container load,” said Annick, a pensioner, as she filled her yoghurt pot with nurdles. 

French politicians have taken note. Joel Guerriau, a senator from the region, has called for a “clear international designation” of  the pellets as being harmful.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu labelled the nurdles “an environmental nightmare”, telling AFP the government would support associations fighting pellet pollution.

Ingesting plastic is harmful for human health but nurdles, in addition, attract chemical contaminants found in the sea to their surface, making them even more toxic.

Measuring less than five millimetres in size, they are not always readily visible except when they wash up in unusually huge quantities, as has been the case since late November along the northwestern French coast.