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How likely are droughts and water restrictions in France in summer 2023?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 21 Feb, 2023 Updated Tue 21 Feb 2023 13:46 CEST
How likely are droughts and water restrictions in France in summer 2023?
A fish bone lying on a dry bed of the River Loire at Montjean-sur-Loire, western France on June 16, 2022 (Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP)

The year 2023 has barely begun, but already France is grappling with record rainfall shortages, causing major concern about more severe droughts this summer - here's what the experts predict.


It's hard for most people to get too worried about a lack of rain in winter, but France has seen a record 32-day dry spell in January and February.

While French weather forecaster Météo France expects some rain to return to France this week, there is still widespread concern as to whether the country will experience intense droughts in the summer of 2023, as it did in 2022.


Problems in store for the summer

Météo France has called this winter "unprecedented" in regard to low rainfall levels, saying that it expects that the country will end February with a "rainfall deficit of about 50 percent". 

The current winter drought is notable not only for its duration - outlasting the previous record set in 1989 which was 22 days - but also for its timing. Météo France says that the soil across the country is at a dryness level that would be typical for mid-April.

Rainfall in the winter is particularly important for allowing the soil to "fill up with moisture" and for groundwater and rivers to recover to their usual levels.

The level of rainfall in the "next three months - March, April, and May - will be decisive" for the drought situation this summer, says Météo France.

Serge Zaka, expert in agroclimatology, told Franceinfo that the month of April will be the key month for judging whether water tables and above-ground water sources were adequately recharged.

However, even if there is a higher rainfall during the spring months, a lot of the water will be absorbed by plants as they begin to blossom. Nevertheless, it would help to irrigate fields, as farmers would not need to rely on pumping underground water as much. 

What's the forecast for spring?

As of mid-February, forecasters with Météo Consult said that they did not foresee any significant improvement for rainfall in the spring. They anticipate that at best, precipitation could come close to normal or remain slightly deficient.

"March could see a return to wetter weather", the experts predicted, but they referenced concerns that the month of May "could be dominated by stormy showers that would not allow groundwater to be recharged".


In a separate interview with Le Point, Zaka added that the water situation year is especially precarious when it comes to possible droughts this summer.

"In 2022, the (water) yield was down by 24 percent, but it was offset by the excess in 2021. This year, there are no reserves", the expert cautioned.

Zaka told Le Point that ultimately it will be essential to "anticipate the measures that need to be taken" and to take less from the water tables now, rather than waiting for water restrictions in the summer. 

"In 2022, we saw the drought coming, but we did nothing", Zaka said.

Water restrictions

The summer of 2023 saw water restrictions in place across virtually the entire country - in badly-hit areas activities like watering the garden, filling a swimming pool or washing the car were banned, while in some of the worst affected areas tap water supplies ran out altogether.


The French government has begun thinking about how it will handle possible droughts this summer. In January, France's environment minister Christophe Béchu announced a series of measures to reduce French people's water consumption, as the country grapples with rising temperatures and more frequent droughts.

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

In some parts of the country, like in Pyrenees-Orientales, drought restrictions have remained in place. In February, the Var département also instituted new water-related restrictions, namely on watering gardens, golf courses, and washing cars during certain hours. If you live in this area, you can find the specific rules HERE.

Local authorities in the Var also expressed their concerns during a press conference on February 17th, saying that "if we have a summer as hot as last year, we risk encountering even greater difficulties".


Farmers have also began worrying about the low precipitation levels this winter. In the Rhone Valley, there has not been any significant rainfall since December 15th, according to TF1.

This has caused farmers in the area to be concerned about potentially lower yields this year, as some plants, like wheat, cannot grow properly with the lack of water.

“To maintain these plants, you don’t need much, but you can’t leave them without a drop of water. At this time of year, zero rainfall is really detrimental,” Jean-Pierre Royannez, farmer and president of the Drôme Chamber of Agriculture, told TF1.

Scientists found that the droughts that France endured in 2022 were made "at least 20 times more likely" by global warming due to human activity, as analysed in a study published in October by the World Weather Attribution network of researchers.


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