The Gorges du Verdon – the largest canyon in Europe, and a draw for water sports enthusiasts in the summer – has been hit by drought following a winter with little rain and snow on the Val d’Allos, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
And the lack of water has led to a “historic” hydrological situation and prompted local authorities in the area to ban certain water-based activities, and prevent a water park from opening this summer.
The area, which welcomes up to 1 million visitors a year, has closed to rafting and swimming in previous summers, but this year’s shutdown is unusually early – it’s the first time an entire summer season has been wiped out.
Meanwhile, the water at Lac de Sainte-Croix, one of the largest lakes in France, is already at a late summer levels. Water sports are permitted for now, but questions remain over whether it will be able to remain open throughout July and August.
Electricity supplier EDF has maintained a minimum flow in the Verdon to preserve wildlife, but will not release water into the gorge, in order to ensure the supply of drinking water to towns and cities in the south including Marseille and for agricultural irrigation. It has also stopped hydroelectric production for six months to protect supplies.
“It is necessary that the inhabitants as well as the tourists are aware of this exceptional situation”, insists the prefect of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Violaine Démaret. The authorities want, for their part, to promote the beaches that are still accessible to prevent tourists from flocking to the forbidden and dangerous bathing areas.
Water levels are less than 40cm in Lac de Castillon, hemmed in between the Alpine mountains some 900m above sea level, down some 5m from normal levels, the mayor of Saint-André-les-Alpes told Le Figaro.
“We’re not even going to make a quarter of our turnover. Tourists are already upset and when there will be many people, what will we be able to offer them?” Ines Flores, who runs water sports base Bike Beach, told the paper.
“In a few decades, we have gone from one drought every five years to three droughts every five years,” Claude Roustan, president of the département’s fishing federation, added.