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ENVIRONMENT

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

With France in the grip of an historic drought we asked a climate expert which areas are worst affected, what type of water restrictions we can expect to see in the coming weeks and how long the drought it likely to last for.

Ask the expert: Why is France's drought so bad and what will happen next?
Amid drought and a third heatwave, France's Loire river shown to be very low in early August 2022 (Photo by Jean-François MONIER / AFP)

Hydrologist and President of Research Organisation ‘Mayenne’ Emma Haziza answered The Local’s questions on the latest drought situation.

How does this drought compare to previous years?

When we look at previous years, France had four years of historic drought in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Last year (2021) saw higher rainfall because of a cold polar air front that settled over France and played a role in generating a lot of rainfall. But even when we look at last year, we can still see that outside of France there were already abnormally high temperatures. 

In 2017, 18, 19 and 20 there was still a very good amount of underground water that was refilled during the winter months. This shows that even with a healthy amount of rainfall in the winter, the summer still ended up being historically dry.

However this year, the water tables were not adequately refilled due to a low rainfall during the winter.

We have already seen three heatwaves and we are expecting a fourth. We have seen temperatures higher than average, with the month of May being the hottest registered in France. 

READ MORE: More than 100 French villages without tap water in ‘unprecedented’ drought

This means that even if the water tables were sufficiently refilled over the winter, we would still be in a bad position – but our current situation is even worse because of the low rainfall over the winter.

What areas are likely to be hardest hit by drought?

It is basically all over the country, but in particular the entire Loire basin, along the Mediterranean, and the Grand-Est region (in the east of France) will be impacted. The Atlantic coast will also be impacted as it has had mostly high pressure systems and almost no rain since January. 

Ultimately, local drought situations depend less on the area of France and more on the type of aquifer – whether the water table is deep and full.

More shallow water tables feed the rivers and many of these are drying up too. 

So does this mean the North and West can expect to be impacted too? Could these regions also need to restrict household water usage?

Yes, this means that the North (and Brittany) could be impacted too. 

The lack of water at the tap is making its way across the country – it depends on the water tables, not whether a village is in the North or the South. 

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

We once thought that climate change was coming for the South first, but heatwaves are proving to accelerate drought and are impacting the north and the west as well. It is like a hairdryer all over France.

How long could it last?

As the forecast does not indicate rain any time soon, looking into the month of September the situation could become worse. This means that in many parts of the country we might have to wait until October to see the water tables begin to be refilled.

In 2017, the drought did not end until December and this year might be similar for the localities that do not get rain. This means we will need to continue supplying villages by bringing in trucks filled with water. 

With the drought, we can also expect that when rain does come that there could also be flash flooding. 

How can people best stay informed?

The government website Propluvia.fr allows you to see underground water levels and whether they have reached a critical state or not, as well as keeping up to date on water restrictions in your area. 

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

You can also keep up to date with the latest restrictions on The Local’s climate crisis section.

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ENVIRONMENT

France opens up first offshore windfarm – but will more follow?

President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated France’s first offshore windfarm off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on Thursday as he seeks to accelerate renewable energy supply and improve energy security.

France opens up first offshore windfarm - but will more follow?

The 80 turbines will enter full service by the end of the year, and Macron has previously set a goal of about 50 offshore windfarms “providing up to 40 gigawatts” in service by 2050.

Following the belated inauguration of the country’s first offshore windfarm, another at Fécamp is due to start generating power in 2023. Sites in Saint-Brieuc, Fécamp and Courseulles-sur-Mer are set to enter service in 2024.

But France has a long way to go to meet the President’s target, and to catch up with its European neighbours. Before the Saint-Nazaire wind farm (‘parc éolien’ – en français), France had only one floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Le Croisic.

At Thursday’s inauguration event, Macron was to set out the “main lines” of a bill to accelerate France’s renewable energy programme, which will be presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, September 26th.

READ ALSO France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time

There is no doubt that renewable energy production in France is accelerating. On top of the 80 offshore turbines at Saint-Nazaire, just under 9,000 onshore turbines are currently producing electricity in France – eight years ago, around half that number of land-based turbines were operational. 

The first turbines in France were only installed in the 1990s – by which time countries like Germany and Denmark already had large-scale operations in place. 

More turbines would be in operation now in France, but for the lengthy planning process and appeals against projects, which have delayed construction for several years.

Hauts-de-France and Grand-Est, account for 50 percent of the wind-produced power in France. Île-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, and Corsica lag behind the other regions.

READ MORE: Energy shortages: What’s the problem with France’s nuclear industry?

In 2020, wind produced just eight percent of its electricity from wind, behind hydroelectric stations, while nuclear power generated nearly 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Wind power accounted for 20 percent of electricity generation in Germany and Spain, while the UK was at 30 percent in 2020, Portugal produced 40 percent, and Denmark’s windfarms met 60 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

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