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