From farmers to fishermen, boat owners to ordinary households, communities across France are grappling with a severe drought that has resulted in an unprecedented number of regions being hit by water restrictions this summer.
Like much of western Europe, the country is experiencing a grueling hot season, with record temperatures and wildfires that have prompted a renewed focus on climate change.
After the third driest spring on record and drought-like conditions since then, rivers and reservoirs across the country are running dry, leading to increasingly stringent water restrictions.
“We have a record number of departments with restrictions,” the environment ministry said in a statement, saying 90 of the 96 administrative regions known as departments were affected.
The toughest water conservation measures – including a ban on irrigation of farmland – are in force in the north-west in the Loire river basin and in the south-east around the Rhone.
Areas in the south-west around the Tarn and Lot rivers are also in the highest red category used by the government’s drought website, Propluvia.
Since the beginning of the year, the average temperature has been above the long-term average on 151 of 204 days, a record since 1947, according to the national weather service Meteo France.
– Consequences –
From the normally green Alps to the most famous wine regions in Bourgogne and Bordeaux, the consequences of months of almost rainless weather are being felt.
In the Franche-Comte region of eastern France, water shortages have become so severe that several villages in the Doubs area now depend on water trucks to deliver supplies.
Local dairy farmers, whose cows need more than 100 liters of water a day, feel the problem acutely.
“The price of water has doubled or even tripled compared to a few years ago,” local farmer Aurelie Binet told France 3 TV. “As farmers, we definitely use a lot of water.”
The quaint southern village of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, near the Rhone estuary on the Mediterranean coast, also struggles to get drinking water from its usual sources.
“It hasn’t rained for eight months and because the Rhone is very low, salt water flows up to 20 kilometers inland,” Mayor Christelle Aillet told AFP. “We have a problem with the water and the crowd.”
On the Rhine, commercial canal boats have to travel at a third of their deadweight capacity to avoid hitting the bottom because of the low water level.
Even in the far north of the Calais region, which is reliably cooler and wetter than most of France, farmers worry about parched pastures that fail to feed their livestock.
“Some colleagues say it’s worse than 1976 (a record drought year),” Jean-Pierre Clipet of the farmers’ union FDSEA told AFP. “They don’t know how they’re going to feed their animals this winter.”
– fishing ban –
In red zone drought areas with the strictest water restrictions, washing cars and watering gardens are prohibited, while golf courses are also unable to keep their fairways green.
Low river levels also mean fishing is restricted while rescue operations are carried out for species stranded in some waterways, including around Belfort in eastern France.
Eric Vincent, a fishing guide who takes clients in Alsace and the Vosges to the east, told AFP he had to cancel clients last week.
“The fisherman knows the condition of the river and knows when to stop,” said the 55-year-old. “I won’t be able to accompany clients this summer. That wasn’t the case 10-15 years ago.”
In Bourgogne’s famous vineyards, meanwhile, winemakers expect this year’s harvest to be small and early, perhaps surpassing the record set in 2020 when harvesters began work in August.
– Forest fires –
France has experienced two severe heatwaves in May and most recently in July – when temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
Two huge fires near Bordeaux in south-west France have destroyed more than 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of dead wood over the past two weeks and required around 2,000 firefighters to bring them under control.
As a precaution, local authorities are restricting access to many forest areas, including the Calanques National Park on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille, which is popular with tourists.
Experts say more severe heat waves and water shortages will become more common as global warming associated with greenhouse gas emissions takes a toll on the planet.
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