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CLIMATE CRISIS

How France plans to minimise future droughts

The 2022 drought is already the worst in 60 years, but these exceptional events are predicted to become more common, so France is considering long-term solutions to deal with punishingly dry periods.

How France plans to minimise future droughts
(Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP)

Recent headlines in drought-ridden France have made for sobering news: “More than 100 French villages without tap water in ‘unprecedented’ drought”; “‘Water will run out in 25 days’ – Corsica imposes strict new drought restrictions”; “French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up”.

The list goes on.

Environment Minister Christophe Béchu said France has experienced its driest month of July “since 1959”, while Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne activated an interministerial crisis unit to coordinate the resources of the State in the face of the “exceptional drought”.

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

The lack of water is affecting agriculture, food production, France’s famous wine industry, and is stoking tensions between residents and visitors in popular tourist areas.

A senior researcher at the European Drought Observatory told AP on Friday that the current drought affecting large parts of Europe could be worse than the previous one in 2018 – which was so bad that there had been no similar events in the previous 500 years.

And latest weather predictions suggest that drought conditions will continue for up to three months and the ongoing climate crisis means that ‘exceptional’ events such as the 2022 are set to become more regular.

While water restrictions have already been imposed on local authorities to combat the risk of water shortages, are there any long-term plans for protecting France’s water resources?

Companies are looking at ways of concentrating their water use, including by reusing water multiple times where possible, while measures such as trickle irrigation could help reduce water loss in agriculture.

Agroecology, which has been developed over the last few years, is also leading adapted practices on better soil conservation, which could allow water to be better retained.

“We need to accelerate the implementation of these innovative techniques and work on training personnel in the field,” hydrogeologist Marie Pettenati told Franceinfo.

Drinking wastewater

It’s possible. For the past 50 years or so, Namibia has produced a percentage of its drinking water by treating waste water. But it’s not necessarily the first step.

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

A group of farmers in Clermont-Ferrand use water that has passed through the city’s wastewater treatment plant for several years. But schemes like this are highly local and very rare – only a handful exist across the country.

A decree has existed in France allowing the use of treated wastewater for agricultural purposes since 2010, but – with the Clermont-Ferrand exception – is rarely used. The rules and the tools exist. All that remains is to use them.

Groundwater

In total, 62 percent of France’s drinking water is taken from groundwater, according to a Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières study. 

Pettenati said: “We also need to think more deeply about water storage in the ground, which would make it possible to retain resources and make them available for future use. 

“This would mean storing very large volumes of water at times when it is most available (in winter, for example, during periods of heavy rainfall) to be reused later, when it is most needed.”

Treated wastewater could also be stored underground for agricultural use, according to some suggestions.

“Groundwater is an invisible resource. We have trouble understanding how to preserve it, but it is essential,” Pettenati said.

Water reservoirs – often used by farmers – lead to significant losses to evaporation during periods of high temperatures, and risk contamination. 

Moreover, the basins hold a large volume of water in a very localised area, which can have consequences on river levels and impact on wildfire in wetland areas.

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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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