Water restrictions have already been ordered in nearly all of France’s 96 mainland départements, with 62 at the highest alert level, and national weather agency Météo-France has forecast little relief in the coming weeks.
“This drought is the worst-ever recorded in our country … the situation could persist for the next two weeks and become even worse,” the office of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a statement.
The dry conditions are a “disaster” for farmers across the country as well as for “our ecosystems and biodiversity,” it added.
Soaring temperatures have increased the evaporation of lakes and rivers whose levels have fallen just as irrigation needs rise ahead of autumn harvests.
The state-controlled electricity provider EDF has had to reduce output at several nuclear plants because river temperatures have become too high, which means water used to cool reactors cannot be safely returned to natural waterways.
“Faced with this historic situation, the prime minister has decided to activate an interdepartmental crisis task force and urges everyone to conserve our water resources,” her office said.
But the statement did not address growing criticism over exceptions that have been granted to golf courses, which are being allowed to continue watering greens even in departments now on drought crisis alert.
Several other European countries have also issued severe drought warnings, with the EU urging members this week to re-use treated urban waste water for the continent’s parched farms.
The crisis has kindled fears that yields of grain and other crops will suffer, further raising food prices already climbing in part from the disruptions caused by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.