SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

ENVIRONMENT

Water limits, apps and leaks: How France plans to deal with future droughts

France's environment minister Christophe Béchu has announced a series of measures to reduce French people's water consumption, as the country grapples with rising temperatures and more frequent droughts.

Water limits, apps and leaks: How France plans to deal with future droughts
The shores and dam of the artificial lake of the Saint-Peyres in Angles, southwestern France, in August, 2022. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

“There will be a before and an after summer 2022,” Béchu revealed in an interview with Le Parisien, as he unveiled a plan to reduce water consumption in France, clearly indicating that there is no longer any possibility of doing nothing.

The hot, dry summer of 2022 was marked by a severe drought as well as scorching temperatures, and climate crisis means that such summers are set to become the norm.

Over the summer virtually the whole of France had some sorts of water restrictions in place and several communes lost their drinking water supply entirely. 

“Almost all départements have been affected by restriction measures and 700 municipalities have experienced difficulties in supplying drinking water,” Béchu said.

Even in January,  restrictions are in place in some parts of France, the Propluvia website shows.

READ ALSO Ask the expert: Why was France’s summer 2022 drought so bad and what will happen next?

He pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was warning of a 10 to 40 percent drop in river levels by 2050, and set out a target of cutting the volume of water taken from underground by “a little over” 10 percent by 2027 to ease the problem.

“The first objective is to reduce the volume of groundwater used by a little over 10 percent by the end of the five-year period. That is to say a decrease of 4 billion cubic metres out of a total of 33 collected each year,” he said.

“The best water retention is the water table, which is natural and has no evaporation effect.”

Farmers

Unsurprisingly, the biggest water consumers in France are farmers and agricultural businesses.

Béchu said no additional restrictions would be in place for agricultural water use, but he asked farmers “to be careful with regard to water consumption”.

READ ALSO French farmers warn of rising prices for fruit and vegetables after drought

“There is no agriculture without water and it would be hypocritical to set too many restrictions on French agriculture,” he said. 

Households

Béchu said that plans will be in place before the summer encouraging and obliging individuals to reduce their water consumption – and cited the possibility of introducing hourly restrictions on water use in certain areas. 

He pointed out that enforcing restrictions in July – via traditional methods – would be too late because “we can no longer correct [the problem].”

The Minister also announced plans to develop “a form of Ecowatt water, on which we will find the pressure on water supply locally”. 

The Ecowatt app shows users the risk of power cuts in their areas – the water app would be similar and users will also receive advice on how to reduce their water use.

Building

“We consume 150 litres of water per person per day,” Béchu said. “We must be able to change certain construction rules.”

He estimated that, in some areas, as much as 70 percent of drinking water was lost to leaks – the national average is around 20 percent. “We need to eliminate the black spots and make local players responsible. 

READ ALSO IN PICTURES: French drought intensifies as River Loire dries up

“This is the work we have undertaken with Bérangère Couillard, the Secretary of State for Ecology. 

“We cannot keep communes managing drinking water alone. The objective of installing water management in inter-municipalities by 2026 must be met.”

Recycling

A measly one percent of wastewater in France is reused, way behind other countries – while toilets use water suitable for drinking.

Béchu said that only 77 of the 33,000 wastewater treatment plants in France are equipped with complete recycling treatment systems. 

“We must … think about rainwater and grey water (domestic water with little pollution) and use common sense,” he said, adding that the rules in France “will evolve”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ENVIRONMENT

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

French prosecutors said on Friday they would investigate the appearance of vast quantities of tiny toxic plastic pellets along the Atlantic coast that endanger marine life and the human food chain.

France to probe microplastic pellet pollution on Atlantic beaches

The criminal probe will follow several legal complaints about the pellet invasion lodged by local authorities and the central government in Paris, Camille Miansoni, chief prosecutor in the western city of Brest, told AFP.

The microscopic pellets, called nurdles, are the building blocks for most of the world’s plastic production, from car bumpers to salad bowls.

They are usually packed in bags of 25 kilogrammes for transport, each containing around a million nurdles, which are sometimes called “Mermaids’ Tears”. 

But they can easily spill into the ocean when a cargo ship sinks or loses a container. Environmentalists also suspect that factories sometimes dump them into the sea.

Fish and birds often mistake them for food and, once ingested, the tiny granules can make their way into the diet of humans.

Experts told AFP the nurdles found along the coast of Brittany may have come from a plastic industry container that fell into the sea.

“We can’t rule out a single source for the industrial pellets,” said Nicolas Tamic at the CEDRE pollution research body in Brest.

On Tuesday, the French government filed a legal complaint against persons unknown and called for a international search for any containers that may have been lost at sea.

Local authorities have followed suit, and the environmental crime branch of the Brest prosecutor’s office will lead the investigation.

Last weekend, around 100 people took part in a clean-up campaign on a microplastic-infested beach in Pornic in Brittany to collect pellets and draw attention to the problem. 

“We think they’ve come from a container that may have been out there for a while and opened up because of recent storms,” said Lionel Cheylus, spokesman for the NGO Surfrider Foundation.

“Our action is symbolic. It’s not like we’re going to pick up an entire container load,” said Annick, a pensioner, as she filled her yoghurt pot with nurdles. 

French politicians have taken note. Joel Guerriau, a senator from the region, has called for a “clear international designation” of  the pellets as being harmful.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu labelled the nurdles “an environmental nightmare”, telling AFP the government would support associations fighting pellet pollution.

Ingesting plastic is harmful for human health but nurdles, in addition, attract chemical contaminants found in the sea to their surface, making them even more toxic.

Measuring less than five millimetres in size, they are not always readily visible except when they wash up in unusually huge quantities, as has been the case since late November along the northwestern French coast.

SHOW COMMENTS