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”.
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.
▪️ A gauche : la région lyonnaise il y a un an, le 10 août 2021, dans un été alors reconnu comme humide.
▪️ A droite : même paysage cette année (10 août 2022). Une visualisation satellite qui permet d'appréhender l'empreinte au sol des zones forestières.
🛰️ SENTINEL-2 16h08 UTC pic.twitter.com/YnytitTHya
— Météo-France (@meteofrance) August 11, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.