Hot Topic: The Water Crisis In France
At the start of the year, analysis of satellite data by the Institute of Geodesy at TU Graz revealed that Europe has been in a state of severe drought since 2018, with the continent now facing a concerning lack of groundwater resources, a situation that will have far-reaching socioeconomic implications for many different countries.
The summer of 2022 demonstrated the effects of these prolonged drought conditions, with riverbeds drying up and waterways starting to disappear. The knock-on effects of this included habitat loss, agricultural issues thanks to drying soil, and energy shortages.
In France, for example, there was insufficient cooling water in nuclear power plants to generate enough electricity, while hydroelectric power plants were rendered incapable of fulfilling operational functionalities.
Further research from the JRC’s Copernicus Global Drought Observatory, published in June, found that severe drought has been affecting the western Mediterranean, reducing river flows and soil moisture, which has led to stunted plants and crops during the growing season.
Persistent low rainfall has been seen for more than 12 months and this, coupled with an exceptionally dry and warm winter and spring, has led to severe drought throughout the region… and it’s predicted that temperatures will rise even further this summer.
Between May 2022 and April 2023, temperatures in southern France were up to 2.5 degrees C higher than average (at least), driven in part by long-lasting and intense heatwaves. Similarly, parts of Morocco, Algeria, Spain and Italy were also affected in this way.
Dwindling water resources have had a big impact on vegetation and crops, which has led to delayed sowing and low yield predictions. In central-southern France, severe vegetation stress has taken hold, resulting in failed crops and smaller fruits.
The report concluded that, based on the current drought situation and forecasts, if warmer-than-average temperatures and a dearth of rainfall persists, the situation could become even more critical.
Next summer, in particular, appears to be on the scientists’ radar, with the season currently facing a high risk of water resources reaching critical points, which means it’s even more important now to monitor the situation and introduce drought adaptation measures, as well as other water management strategies.
What about tourism?
It’s not just agriculture and food supplies that are under threat because of water stress and scarcity in France, however, and it seems that the tourism industry will also be affected if the situation continues as it is.
In southern France, for example, tourism operators at the Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon lake are putting drought-adaptive plans in place to ensure that they can continue operating in some guise or other, even if water levels are low.
This artificial reservoir lake, along with Serre Poncon and Castillon, are renowned around the world for their crisp, clear waters and beautiful mountainous surrounds, attracting an impressive 4.6 million visitors or so each year.
But, according to AP News, climate change is now increasing drought duration in the south of France, which means these reservoirs are now being drained to lower levels more and more in order to provide drinking water supplies and power generation for local communities.
Speaking to the news source, Antoine Coudray of Secret River Tours explained: “Rafting and kayaking is great, but if tomorrow there is not enough water in the river, we will have to reinvent ourselves … These days, we have to be conscious that there will be less and less water in the river for us, so we have to know how to adapt.”
Something else worth considering is that people are increasingly becoming more eco-conscious and it may well be that the tourists of the future choose not to visit regions that are being badly affected by the water crisis, so as not to create any additional challenges for local communities.
Water wars in France
A relatively recent development in the country is water-related conflict, which is expected to become more frequent as time goes on and drought, heatwaves and a lack of rainfall continue to make their presence felt across the continent.
According to Politico, protests at a water reservoir in Sainte-Soline resulted in clashes with police, with hundreds of people injured and two left in comas. Such protests are likely to be seen with increasing regularity as the government forges ahead with its plans to build more reservoirs and as more drought warnings are put in place.
And at the Mauze-sur-le-Mignon reservoir, violent clashes have also been seen between local farmers and environmentalists.
In this instance, farmers say they need water resources for crop irrigation during the summer months, while activists argue that excessive water abstraction for farming is harmful to the environment and water-intensive crops like corn should not be planted.
France’s water scarcity action plan
In March this year, French president Emmanuel Macron revealed his new national plan for addressing water stress and scarcity, with the aim being to see a ten per cent reduction in consumption and usage industry-wide by 2030.
Furthermore, steps are being put in place to reuse ten per cent of treated wastewater by 2030, with 1,000 reuse projects launched over the coming five years to help achieve this. And leakage rates are also in the government’s sights, with €180 million a year committed from 2024 to help cut leaks. Circular water use at nuclear plants will also be encouraged and the implementation of progressive tariff structures will be expanded.
The announcement was made after a particularly dry winter season that saw 80 per cent of the country’s groundwater resources reach critically low levels.
Currently, nearly two-thirds of groundwater reservoirs in the country are a cause for concern, with 68 per cent of reserves now below monthly averages and 75 per cent decreasing since measures were previously taken back in May.