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France’s environment minister has unveiled nationwide drought guidance as the summer of 2023 looks set to be even drier than last year – the hottest and driest on record.

Christophe Bechaux presented a map of the 28 departments most at risk of drought by the end of the summer, based on data collected on groundwater levels, rainfall and waterways in France.

Twenty-eight of France’s 96 mainland departments face a very high risk of drought – including the Mediterranean, the south-west and the Paris region.

Recent rains in some areas have led to a slight improvement in water tables, but they have come too late to have a significant impact.

In April, 68 percent of groundwater supplies were below average. In March, this figure was 75 percent.

The government has warned that water shortages could be greater this summer than in 2022, when record heat and little rainfall made it the hottest and driest on record.

He based his findings on data from the French Geological Survey (BRGM) published on May 1, 2023.

“From May, the water table is likely to remain low until autumn,” the report said, adding that opportunities to replenish water supplies are likely to be “spotty and not very intense, unless there is exceptional rainfall”.

A map showing the regions of France that will be most affected by drought between now and the end of the summer. Orange = very likely, yellow = likely, pale yellow = possible. © Source: Ministry of Nature

A guide to good practice

In anticipation of the summer heat, Béchu has introduced an updated national drought guide.

Created in 2021 to provide a framework for dealing with drought in France, it was distributed to all prefects to help them decide when to launch 10 water-restriction measures – such as filling swimming pools, watering golf courses and gardens – at local level.

Prefects must apply the restrictions in their departments, but can go further if they choose.

The prefect of the Pyrenees-Orientales in the southwest of the country, who declared a “crisis” situation due to a prolonged drought, banned the sale of inflatable pools, for example.

The responsibility for enforcing the restrictions rests with the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB), a kind of environmental police.

“A total of 13,000 inspections were done last year and 1,000 resulted in sanctions,” Beschu said at a press conference.

“But questions need to be asked to see if the sanctions are sufficiently deterrent.”