Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region

The whole of metropolitan France is now affected by drought after Paris and its suburbs were placed under "vigilance".

Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region
A banner photographed in June reads « Shortage of drinking water in Groix. Let's be vigilant » at the ferry terminal of Lorient, western France. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

The entirety of France’s metropolitan départements – all 96 – now have alerts issued for drought, after local authorities for the Paris region placed their départements on alert. There are four levels of drought restrictions, ranging from limits on agricultural usage to bans on non-essential water usage for households.

Prior to Tueday, the départements of Paris and Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, and Val-de-Marne were the exceptions, but as of August 2nd, they have also been called to employ in water restriction measures after being added to the drought alert list as of August 2nd.

Meanwhile, Essonne, Yvelines, Val d’Oise and Seine-et-Marne départements were already affected by water restrictions. 

River levels have dropped across the country, and the Seine has not been spared. After the flow-rate of the Seine river fell under the threshold of 81 cubic metres per second (m3/s) when passing Austerlitz station on July 25th, the drought alert for Paris itself was triggered. 

The Ile-de-France region is currently on the “vigilance” level, which is the first of the four drought alert levels.

This means that individuals, local authorities and companies are encouraged, but not obliged, by the préfecture to ration their water consumption by avoiding watering green spaces and roads, washing their vehicles and/or limiting their domestic consumption.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are water restrictions in place in France and what do they mean?

The drought is expected to continue as the country prepares for another heat wave. Almost no rain is expected in the next 10 days in France, except for a few showers next Thursday and Friday in the east of the country.

Farmers nationwide are reporting difficulties in feeding livestock because of parched grasslands, while irrigation has been banned in large areas of the northwest and southeast due to freshwater shortages.

On the eastern river Rhine, which runs along the France-Germany border, commercial boats are having to run at a third of their carrying capacity in order to avoid hitting the bottom because the water level is so low.

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said July’s rainfall represented “just 12 percent of what’s needed”.

“We have a heatwave that increases the need (for water) and a drought that is limiting what is available, pushing us into this vicious cycle,” Bechu told BFM television during a visit to the hard-hit Isere department in the southeast.

Calls to conserve water across the whole of France came after reports that the country saw its driest July on record. In France, there was just 9.7 millimetres of rain last month, Meteo France said.

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Hosepipe bans, well water and pools – your questions answered on France’s drought restrictions

France is suffering an unprecedented drought and the whole country is now under some level of water restrictions - we answer your questions on what this means for daily life in France.

Hosepipe bans, well water and pools - your questions answered on France's drought restrictions

Since the beginning of August, the whole country had been on drought alert, with different areas under different restrictions.

You can check the map HERE to find out what level of restriction (grey, yellow, orange or red) applies in your area, and what those restrictions mean.

In addition to the national restrictions, local authorities including mairies have the right to impose extra restrictions if necessary – right up to rationing tap water.

In some areas, the tap water has run completely dry, and in those areas it is the responsibility of the mairie to ensure access to drinking water – usually by distributing bottled water.

If your local mairie has imposed extra restrictions you will usually be contacted directly, but you can also check the mairie website.

Here we answer some of the most commonly-asked questions;

Is there a hosepipe ban?

Hosepipe bans are common in the UK during drought periods, but French water restrictions work differently. There is no per se ban on hosepipes, but many areas have limited activities such as car-washing or watering the garden that you might normally use a hosepipe for.

Check local restrictions in your area, but for example in orange alert areas watering laws and flower beds is forbidden while vegetable gardens can only be watered between 8pm and 9am. These rules apply whether you are using a hosepipe, watering can or any other implement.

Sprinklers are banned in many areas.

I have a well on my property, can I use water from the well to water the garden?

It’s not uncommon in rural areas for properties to have a well, spring, borehole or similar in the garden that provides fresh but untreated water. Obviously you shouldn’t drink this as it may not be safe, but many people use them to water gardens.

The standard level of drought restrictions cover only tap water, but local authorities can impose restrictions on all types of water if the situation requires it.

Unless otherwise stated, water restrictions concern only l’eau potable – tap water – so you can continue to use water from the well.

If your local restrictions mention l’eau brute – untreated water – that includes all types of water, including water from your well.

My mairie is restricting the use of l’eau brute – what is this?

L’eau brute is untreated water and covers anything that doesn’t come out of the tap – the most common sources of this is a well or borehole on your property but it would also cover water gathered from a nearby river, lake or spring.

People who have a private well often use the l’eau brute to water the garden.

Standard water restrictions only concern tap water, but in some areas – including on the island of Corsica – local authorities have imposed restrictions on untreated water as well, as local water tables fall dangerously low.

Can I fill or refill my swimming pool?

This depends on the level of drought restriction in place in your area, but most parts of France now have some restrictions on private swimming pools.

In yellow and orange alert areas, pools can be filled up for the first time and then can be topped up, but not emptied and refilled.

In areas on red alert level pools cannot be filled or topped up, and local municipal swimming pools may also be closed. Mairies can also impose extra restrictions on private swimming pools.

Could authorities start rationing tap water?

Yes, this is already in place in some cases.

The highest national level of water restrictions – red – states that people should only use water for essential reasons such as drinking, washing and cooking.

However in some areas local authorities have gone further and imposed a daily limit on water, for example 200 litres per person per day.

In other areas there is a de facto limit as the taps have run dry. In these areas, maries are responsible for ensuring the commune has a supply of drinking water, usually by distributing bottled water to households.

Can I wash my car?

Again, it depends on the level of restriction you are on. The yellow level puts car-washing in with the garden-watering as something that can only be done at certain hours while at higher restriction levels it is banned altogether. 

If you are in a red alert zone water can only be used for essential purposes such as drinking, washing yourself (not your car) and cooking, and mairies may also impose their own restrictions. 

Even if you are in a low-level restriction zone, people are asked to make an effort to save water where they can and cut non-essential use, so maybe your car could deal with being a bit dusty for the next few weeks.

Can I wash my pets?

Some areas have restrictions in place relating to animals, but these tend to be more aimed at livestock than animaux de compagnie (pets)

Heatwaves can be stressful for domestic pets like dogs and cats and many enjoy a nice cool bath as the temperatures rise.

While you should try to be careful and use water sparingly, if your pet needs a bath to cool down and stay healthy then that’s OK. 

Is there advice on saving water?

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 (some areas have more stringent measures in place on gardens)
  • Install water-saving equipment;
  • Take a shower instead of a bath;
  • Repair water leaks;
  • Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher half empty.

We are happy to answer questions from our members on any aspect of life in France, if you have a question email us on [email protected]