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With the drought, the war for water in France has begun

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Theft of water, irrigated golf courses despite prohibitions, private swimming pools that are difficult to control… Francethe scarcity of water, long seen as an inexhaustible resource, triggers social tensions.

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Like many European countries, France has been hit this year by several heat waves and exceptional drought.

“Is this year really exceptional?”asks a sector specialist who requires anonymity. In the southeast of the country, where he lives, the conflicts over water do not come from yesterday, but “Today, they have been exacerbated”.

In mid-July, in the Ardèche (south-east), a department in the south of France in “enhanced surveillance” due to drought, 400 m3 of water used to fight fires were stolen.

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Guilty? A neighboring motocross club that took her “to fill one’s own fire reserve and parking security during a concert”explained the vice president of the same club, Roger Kappel, acknowledging that they did not have “law” to take that water.

The president of the Community of municipalities of the Aubenas basin, in the Ardèche, Max Tourvieilhe, was outraged by the event. “It is dangerous, not a drop has fallen for months, and is there anyone who is allowed to keep 400 m3 of water for private use?”.

In the west of France, in the department of Charente-Maritime, on the Atlantic coast, certain farmers irrigate their crops ignoring the limitations, warns the NGO France Nature Environnement (FNE).

“A minority of farmers violate the prohibitions and endanger a precious good, a common good”complaint.

‘Larger consumers, greater effort’

Metropolitan France is going through a historic drought, a sign of climate change. In July, only 9.7 millimeters of rain fell, a rainfall deficit of around 84% compared to normal for the 1991-2020 period, according to the Météo-France forecast.

“We discovered that this water, which we thought was inexhaustible, is scarce. It will become more and more scarce in certain periods of the year and it will have to be shared”considers Thierry Burlot, president of the Loire-Brittany Basin Committee (west), interviewed on France Culture radio.

Currently, all the metropolitan departments of France are under drought surveillance, with 22 departments on heightened alert and 68 in crisis.

At this highest alert level, watering lawns, vehicles or even crops, as well as filling swimming pools, is prohibited. These restrictions are valid for everyone – individuals, farmers and industrialists.

Must “maintain enough water for the most important uses” (drinking water, health, sanitation, security), explains Agnès Ducharne, researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

But “We are down to earth in terms of water resources: the pie is shrinking, conflicts are becoming more acute and this raises the question of the legitimacy of uses of equal treatment between social groups”analyzes Sylvain Barone, head of research and specialist in the water sector at France Culture.

He cites, for example, the private swimming pools of wealthy residences on the coast of the Côte d’Azur (southeast), where it is very difficult to control whether they are filled or not and which have owners whom “they don’t care” the water bill. Or the coastal tourist municipalities, which do not intend to abandon their flower beds while the inland towns lend themselves to reducing water consumption in gardening.

“The biggest consumers should make the greatest effort”Burlot recalls. In the face of an increasingly scarce commodity, “a commitment is needed” and better management “last all year”not only in the lean months, recalls Thierry Burlot.

Source: Gestion

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