France has announced restrictions on water use in two-thirds of its départements as drought grips the country ahead of the summer holiday season.
The ministry of sustainable development said on Tuesday that 61 of France’s 96 European départements were subject in whole or in part to limits on water consumption — 21 of them in the critical red category that bans farm irrigation and preserves water only for drinking, health and sanitation.
Central France, including the Dordogne and the Loire valley, is the worst affected part of the country.
“The situation is pretty critical,” said Denis Caudron, co-ordinator of the Fund for the Conservation of Wild Rivers. “The situation is linked to a lack of rain this year and over the winter — and it’s been two years now that we’ve had a rain deficit.”
He said that climate change, leading to reduced snowfall and scant recharging of aquifers, meant that water flows in French rivers were declining, with research predicting a 10-30 per cent reduction by 2040 in rivers such as the Loire, the country’s longest.
“At the same time we have developed excessively thirsty types of agriculture, including irrigated corn, over the past 30 or 40 years . . . We consume too much water.”
In addition to the 21 critical départements, a further 15 have all or part of their territory on orange alert and 25 more are in the yellow category.
The heatwave which hit Europe in late June has also contributed to the French drought.
Metéo France, the country’s weather office, reported the highest temperature ever recorded in France at Gallargues-le-Montueux near Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, when the thermometer reached 45.9C at 4.20pm on June 28.
Numerous all-time records were broken in other locations across southern, central and western France in the same week.
“This year is very dry,” said Christian Huyghe, scientific director for agriculture at France’s national institute of agronomic research, who compared the situation to the drought of 2003. “It rained very little last winter, the spring was normal but then we’ve had very high temperatures.”
France’s geological and mines research office, which monitors aquifer levels, said in its latest report that groundwater reserves had not been much recharged by rainfall in 2018-19.
“A marked number of reserves are at moderately low or low levels,” it said, with some of them close to recorded lows for June.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.