“More than a hundred municipalities in France today no longer have drinking water”, indicated Friday the Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, who described the situation as “historic”, during a a visit to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. In these municipalities, specified the Minister, “there are supplies which are made with drinking water trucks which are transported […] since there is nothing left in the pipes”. “The challenge is to tighten a number of restrictions to avoid getting there.”
The French government has been overtaken by the historic drought that metropolitan France is going through, like other European countries: Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has activated the interministerial crisis unit, which is to meet during the day. A decision taken in the face of the “historic situation that many territories are going through”, announced Matignon. The cell, responsible for centralizing information, will meet at 11:30 a.m. in Beauvau, according to a government source. No decision is expected immediately.
“The exceptional drought that we are currently experiencing is depriving many municipalities of water and is a tragedy for our farmers, our ecosystems and biodiversity”, underlines Matignon, who is worried that this drought – “the most serious ever recorded in our country – persists, even becomes “even more worrying”.
The crisis has been simmering for months in certain regions where drought decrees have multiplied since the spring, due to lack of rain. 93 departments in mainland France out of 96 are already subject to water restrictions to varying degrees and 62, or two thirds of the country, are “in crisis”. In this highest level of alert, the watering of lawns, vehicles or the irrigation of crops are prohibited, as is the filling of bodies of water.
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The cell activated on Friday must make it possible “to ensure regular feedback from the department prefects of the most affected areas, to anticipate the possible activation of ORSEC “water” plans for the agglomerations concerned and to coordinate the measures of necessary civil security (water supply to municipalities, delivery of drinking water, etc.)”.
It will also monitor “the impacts of this drought for our energy production and transport infrastructure and for our agricultural sector, in particular the livestock sector”.
Sectors hard hit
Elisabeth Borne asked the prefects to bring together, “from next week, in each area of tension, the local water commissions and, where they exist, the other local consultation structures for water management” in order to define “the prioritization of uses in case of necessity”.
July 2022 was the second driest month ever recorded in France, after March 1961, with a rainfall deficit of around 84% compared to normal for the period 1991-2020. “We are on a major event, which can easily be compared to 1976 or 2003”, commented Jean-Michel Soubeyroux, climatologist at Météo-France. With in addition a “record drought situation for soil moisture since July 17 at the national level”.
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Essential sectors are hard hit, such as agriculture, whether it is corn intended for animal feed, which is very water-intensive, or the lack of pasture for livestock. “It is a global question that we must ask ourselves: what do we do when we are in a drought situation but especially upstream, how do we avoid getting there”, advocates the Minister of Transition ecological Christophe Béchu in a local daily interview Provence.
The question of sharing the uses of water agitates the political class. On RTL on Friday morning, LFI deputy Manuel Bompard felt that it was “a question of justice”. “When there are problems of tension over the use of water, it is necessary to favor the uses necessary for the life of everyone, and not the leisure of a few”, he for example criticized , in response to a question about watering golf greens.
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Serious consequences also for EDF which could further lower its production of nuclear electricity in the coming days, due to the high temperatures of the rivers. River transport is also impacted: on the Rhine, the boats must be lightened by a third because of “the problems of sinking”, according to Voies navigables de France. Nearly 600 km of canals are closed, particularly in the Grand Est and Burgundy, affecting boating activities.
The question of water resources also arises in tourist areas, which see their population increase sharply during the summer period, when the resource is scarce. And the drought favors large-scale fires like those that affected the Gironde and Brittany.
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