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France to impose water restrictions to avoid summer drought

The Local France
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France to impose water restrictions to avoid summer drought
Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

French local authorities are to begin putting in place water restrictions 'as of now' in order to try and avoid another punishing drought this summer, as the environment minister told the country "we should be alarmed" about the water situation.

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The French environment minister held an emergency meeting with local authorities on Monday to address the severe shortage of rain over the winter, which risks plunging the country into another punishing drought this summer.

Christophe Béchu told BFM TV that "we must be alarmed" about the water shortage, and said that he had urged local authorities to begin putting in place anti-drought measures - including water restrictions - now, in order to try and avoid a catastrophe over the summer.

The summer of 2022 saw water restrictions in place across virtually the whole of France while in some communes the tap water ran out altogether. The country also saw devastating wildfires, especially in the south, where parched land became a tinderbox.

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Earlier this month France saw a winter record of 32 consecutive days without rain. Groundwater supplies have not replenished as they normally would in winter, many rivers are unusually low and ground moisture levels are comparable to those typically seen in May.

 

Béchu said: "Last summer, we had up to 700 communes that were concerned by drinking water problems. If we don't take measures early, we run the risk of having an even higher figure next summer and over a larger area with bigger towns concerned.

"If we don't want to find ourselves with 1,200, 1,500, 2,000 communes that will have difficulties when the time comes and the obligation to send tankers or bottled water, we must ration."

The French drought alert system has four levels, ranging from issuing warnings to imposing severe restrictions on domestic water use, and restrictions are implemented at a local level. 

Although it's not unusual to have warnings and restrictions in place over the summer, especially in the south, this year five départements - Ain, Isère, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Pyrénées-Orientales - are currently under restrictions already, with many more likely to follow after the meeting on Monday.

 

Two thirds of the country's rivers are below normal water levels and the lack of snow in the Alps - which saw a delayed start to the ski season - will also mean less meltwater in the late spring and early summer, an important factor in replenishing groundwater supplies in eastern France.

Farmers are especially worried about the situation, as last year's droughts saw reduced harvests in many sectors.

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Béchu said: "All the départements are below normal levels when we look at soil moisture.

"We have three areas - the south, Occitanie and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - where soil moisture is comparable to that of the end of May.

"Not taking restrictive measures now would be irresponsible."

He also called on everyone to consider how they could cut their water use, for example by not washing cars during a drought period like the current one.

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