PARIS, March 6 (Reuters) – France’s 100 departmental prefects should not hesitate to enact quick decrees restricting local water use given alarmingly low groundwater levels, French Environment Minister Christophe Béchu said on Monday.
“We are sounding the alarm given the situation we now find ourselves in, as we near the end of what is usually the recharge period for (underground) water tables,” Béchu said.
The announcement came after Béchu met virtually with prefects to get a view of the country’s overall water situation as the country experiences its driest winter since 1959.
As rain is expected to fall between now and March 15, the ministry will check in with prefects after that date to see how the situation develops.
“We are pinning real hopes on the coming days, when rain is forecast over most of France, but not everywhere, and we have serious concerns for the Mediterranean basin and the Rhone corridor,” Béchu said.
The Pyrenees Orientales, Bouches-du-Rhone, Var and Ain departments in the south and east of the country currently have yellow or orange drought alerts activated, just below the red crisis level, according to government website Propluvia.
Two more departments – the Yvelines west of Paris, and Savoie in the east – have activated low-level pre-alert “vigilance.”
Bechu said the number of departments with some sort of drought alert would reach 12 before the end of this week.
Low water levels last summer impacted hydroelectric production and forced reduced power output at France’s nuclear plants, which use river water to cool reactors.
In several parts of France there was also an interruption of drinking water, which Béchu said he was keen to avoid this year.
To that end, the minister urged prefects “not to overreact, but to react more quickly” given that even “a delay of a few days” between the official announcement of a drought alert and restrictive measures could make the difference.
A national water resource management plan, initially expected in January, is now slated to be published before the end of March, the ministry said.
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