Water restrictions begin in several regions of France after a dry winter

Drought alerts have been put in place in several areas of western and south-eastern France as a preventive measure, following a particularly dry start to the year.

This concerns several municipalities in Drôme, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Vienne, Charente-Maritime, Charente and Maine-et-Loire, which are in a state of alert. Residents are told to reduce the amount of water they use for certain purposes.

This includes watering gardens, golf courses and other green spaces, and washing cars.

The amount of water used for agricultural purposes will also have to be reduced by up to 50%.

Parts of Vienne, Charente-Maritime, Charente and Ain have been placed on “enhanced alert”, meaning they will be subject to stricter restrictions.

Depending on the rules of the municipality in question, residents may be required to further limit the water they use for non-essential purposes, and farmers may be required to reduce their consumption by 50% or more.

The district of Réal de Jouques in the Bouches-du-Rhône has for its part been placed on a “crisis” level restriction, which means that people must only use water for essential purposes such as drinking, cooking. and wash up.

You can find out more about water restrictions in different regions of France by visiting the Propluvia website of the Ministry for Ecological Transition.

A dry start to the year

In March, the national weather service Météo France said “the rain gauge was down by more than 25% over most of the country”, and the amount of rain that had fallen since the start of the year “reflected amounts below the norm across most of the country.

The only regions of France that do not see their soil dry out are the Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon. Elsewhere, the lack of rain has a “strong [impact] groundwater,” the Bureau of Mining Geological Research said in a recent statement.

Météo France’s forecast for the next three months does not inspire optimism, because: “In the months of April to June 2022, warmer and drier weather than normal is likely.

“The rise in temperatures, the regrowth of vegetation and therefore the increase in evapotranspiration will clearly limit the infiltration of rain [into the soil] in the coming weeks. »

The situation is most worrying in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, which experienced its driest New Year this year since 1959, according to the Chaîne Météo forecasting service, with only 64 mm of rain falling on average between the 1st January and April 10.

Read more: French fire pilots plan strike ahead of ‘worrying’ dry summer

“This rainfall deficit, which reaches 60-80% compared to normal, mainly affects the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes”, declared Cyrille Duchesne, meteorologist at Chaîne Météo.

“In some areas, the water table is 30 to 50% deficient”, which means that the flow of streams and rivers is low and that “episode of mistral dries out the soil and vegetation even more”.

This means farmers had to start irrigating their land in March, nearly two months earlier than they normally would.

Even if it rained a lot by summer, the water would not replenish the water table, “so there is a real risk of a difficult summer for the south-east, with water restrictions which could be extended and strengthened”.

Mr. Duchesne added that the current situation cannot be immediately attributed to climate change, as it may simply be a reflection of annual fluctuations in temperature and precipitation.

However, “global warming does not help: the more warm periods we have, the more they will affect the dry periods”.

Météo France predicts that in the long term, droughts could increase by five days (30%) each year by the end of the century, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

How do drought warnings and restrictions work?

‘Vigilance’ (or ‘warning’) is the lowest level of drought restriction in France, and consists of raising awareness and encouraging people to reduce their water consumption.

The next level is ‘alert’, which results in a reduction in the amount of water that can be used for agriculture and for watering green spaces such as golf courses.

It is followed by an “enhanced alert”, which reinforces the above restrictions and could also result in the temporary banning of certain uses.

The final level of restriction is ‘crisis’, under which water can only be used for essential purposes.

In times of drought, the Ministry of Agriculture may decide to recognize a state of “agricultural calamity” and compensate farmers for up to 30% of their destroyed crops.

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