An exceptionally warm and dry winter is exacerbating water resources across the country, leaving France no choice but to implement water rationing schemes in the most-hit provinces, a move described as ‘unprecedented’ this time of year.
An exceptionally dry winter has forced the government to introduce water rationing in parts of the country from March in a bid to avert another drought emergency that could take a heavy toll on agriculture, trade, and energy supplies.
Environment minister Christophe Béchu announced new restrictions on water use on Wednesday, a move that he described as “unprecedented” this time of year.
“France is in a state of alert,” Béchu told broadcaster Franceinfo, as experts warn this winter is the driest in 64 years and hydro stocks are the second lowest over ten years.
In January, the minister announced a five-year ‘anti-drought’ plan, calling on all sectors to cut down on water use. The plan includes a reduction of at least 10% of the water taken from subsoil by 2027 and a scheme to ramp up wastewater reprocessing. Currently, only 77 out of France’s 33,000 wastewater treatment plants come with a recycling treatment system.
A total of 87 Southern municipalities already have water rationing schemes in place, which the government is now looking at extending. As for new measures, Béchu said they would be “soft” ones and would be rolled out on a case-by-case basis.
But France is not the only country grappling with a record winter season. This year, Europe saw one of its warmest Januarys on record, with exceptionally low rain and snowfall and above-average temperatures in Italy, Spain, and the UK, among others.
To make matters worse, these countries are still recovering from the losses experienced as a result of last summer’s heatwaves. Elevated temperatures and a lack of precipitation dried up rivers across Europe, including the Rhine in Germany and River Po in Italy, leading to water shortages that affected agriculture, hydroelectric, and nuclear power generation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a 10 to 40% drop in river levels by 2050, with the decline in freshwater availability expected to impact nearly 700 million people in cities.
France’s announcement came just days after the environmental group Legambiente sounded the alarm over another drought emergency in Italy, urging the government to develop “a national water strategy that has a circular approach with short-, medium- and long-term interventions that favour adaptation to climate change and the reduction of water withdrawals and waste immediately.”