Now it’s no longer just about a dry summer. France is preparing for a future with less water. Farmers, winemakers and the normal population are feeling this.
The tap is turned on, but nothing comes out: around 40,000 people in France are left without drinking water at the end of a recent hot summer. Environment Minister Christophe Béchu recently said that almost 200 municipalities, especially in the south, had to be supplied with tank trucks or bottled mineral water.
The groundwater level is lower than usual in almost two thirds of the areas and Béchu warns: “The crisis is not yet behind us.” Farmers and winegrowers also complain about a lack of water. Authorities have regulated the irrigation of agricultural land, gardens and sports stadiums; filling swimming pools is taboo, as is washing cars. A struggle for scarce food and water has begun.
“All of this clearly bears the hallmarks of climate change: the decline in available, withdrawable water has begun, by 10 to 40 percent,” the minister told the newspaper “Libération”. “This is a consequence of the increase in temperature.”
Water plan: save and reuse water
The government wants to take countermeasures with a water plan presented at the end of March. By 2030, all sectors should use ten percent less water. Saving is necessary because climate change will mean around 30 to 40 percent less water will be available by 2050. Once a certain level of consumption is reached, the price of water will rise and more water than before will be reused; the proportion has so far been low in France.
In the southern department of Pyrénées-Orientales, the winegrowers’ association fears the worst grape harvest in history due to the drought in these weeks. “30 or 40 percent losses” were threatened in the vineyards, said the local association president David Drilles to the France Bleu broadcaster. “It’s dramatic.” Some winegrowers expected losses of up to 80 percent.
The rain and the possibility of irrigation were inadequate. And where departments have imposed restrictions on the irrigation of agricultural areas, environmental police officers visit the farmers and make sure they are not pumping too much water out of the ground.
Problems in Germany too
In Germany, too, federal states want to encourage farmers to use water more sparingly in view of more frequent droughts in times of climate change. The traffic light government in Rhineland-Palatinate recently announced that it would in future collect money for the extraction of ground and surface water in agriculture and forestry. In other federal states, corresponding regulations already exist or are being discussed.
Large agricultural businesses in France are preparing for climate change and farming with less water with so-called “Mégabassines”. These are water retention basins the size of several football fields in which rainwater is collected for dry periods. Environmentalists are up in arms against the megaprojects and consider them to be unecological.
A demonstration at the construction site of a giant pool in Sainte-Soline in western France with thousands of participants ended months ago in a violent confrontation with the police. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin then spoke of “eco-terrorists.” The judiciary temporarily lifted a government ban on the environmental movement involved.
Higher demand for pools – despite filling bans
The fronts in this water war remain hardened. During a multi-day protest march from the provinces towards Paris in August, opponents of the “Mégabassines” also vandalized a golf course. The accusation: Vast quantities of water are necessary in the summer to keep the approximately 700 golf courses in France green and playable in the summer. The association of professional golf course operators countered that the water consumption of the courses had already been reduced and that drinking water was only used to a small extent for irrigation.
Bans on filling up pools are also painful for many people in France, one of the countries with the most private swimming pools in Europe. In the Pyrénées-Orientales department in the south, the sale of above-ground pools was even banned, and a municipality in the south also banned the construction of new pools for five years, citing the lack of water. The result is not just ruined swimming fun: the restrictions would also hurt the swimming pool industry, the FPP trade association recently complained. Orders worth two million euros were lost. However, climate change is also causing demand for private swimming pools to increase in the northern half of the country.