Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region

The whole of metropolitan France is now affected by drought after Paris and its suburbs were placed under "vigilance".

Whole of France on drought alert, including Paris region
A banner photographed in June reads « Shortage of drinking water in Groix. Let's be vigilant » at the ferry terminal of Lorient, western France. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

The entirety of France’s metropolitan départements – all 96 – now have alerts issued for drought, after local authorities for the Paris region placed their départements on alert. There are four levels of drought restrictions, ranging from limits on agricultural usage to bans on non-essential water usage for households.

Prior to Tueday, the départements of Paris and Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, and Val-de-Marne were the exceptions, but as of August 2nd, they have also been called to employ in water restriction measures after being added to the drought alert list as of August 2nd.

Meanwhile, Essonne, Yvelines, Val d’Oise and Seine-et-Marne départements were already affected by water restrictions. 

River levels have dropped across the country, and the Seine has not been spared. After the flow-rate of the Seine river fell under the threshold of 81 cubic metres per second (m3/s) when passing Austerlitz station on July 25th, the drought alert for Paris itself was triggered. 

The Ile-de-France region is currently on the “vigilance” level, which is the first of the four drought alert levels.

This means that individuals, local authorities and companies are encouraged, but not obliged, by the préfecture to ration their water consumption by avoiding watering green spaces and roads, washing their vehicles and/or limiting their domestic consumption.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are water restrictions in place in France and what do they mean?

The drought is expected to continue as the country prepares for another heat wave. Almost no rain is expected in the next 10 days in France, except for a few showers next Thursday and Friday in the east of the country.

Farmers nationwide are reporting difficulties in feeding livestock because of parched grasslands, while irrigation has been banned in large areas of the northwest and southeast due to freshwater shortages.

On the eastern river Rhine, which runs along the France-Germany border, commercial boats are having to run at a third of their carrying capacity in order to avoid hitting the bottom because the water level is so low.

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said July’s rainfall represented “just 12 percent of what’s needed”.

“We have a heatwave that increases the need (for water) and a drought that is limiting what is available, pushing us into this vicious cycle,” Bechu told BFM television during a visit to the hard-hit Isere department in the southeast.

Calls to conserve water across the whole of France came after reports that the country saw its driest July on record. In France, there was just 9.7 millimetres of rain last month, Meteo France said.

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Paris officials to run emergency exercise simulating a 50C day in the city

As the climate crisis pushes temperatures ever higher, officials in Paris are preparing a simulation of the day when the mercury tops 50C, in order to prepare the city's emergency response.

Paris officials to run emergency exercise simulating a 50C day in the city

This simulation, which was announced on Wednesday, is set to take place in October 2023, and it would plunge two parts of one arrondissement (which has not yet been decided) into the fictitious scenario to test the city’s capacity to respond to such a crisis. 

The current temperature record in Paris is 42.6C, which was set during the heatwave of 2019, but experts predict that the record is unlikely to remain unbroken for much longer.  

According to Deputy Mayor of Paris, Penelope Komitès, the city wants to be able to anticipate the next disaster.

“[Paris] has withstood various crises in recent years,” she said to French daily Le Parisien. The public official referenced past disasters, such as the flood of the Seine in 2018, Notre-Dame catching on fire, along with widespread protests and social movements.

“What will be the next crisis?” she said.

Public authorities hope to expand upon and move beyond the city’s first “action plan,” which was adopted in 2017.

The heatwave simulation would allow the city to test its emergency response capacity, namely deployment of cool rooms, shaded areas and other measures. It would also allow public officials to gauge and predict the reactions of Parisians amid a disastrous heatwave of 50C. 

READ MORE: ‘Over 40C’: What will summers in Paris be like in future?

“We have survived crises, but they can happen again,” Komitès said to Le Parisien. Her goal is not for the simulation to provoke anxiety, but instead to prepare the city to mobilise in such an event. 

According to RTL, on Wednesday, the greater Paris region also presented its plan to adapt the community “to the effects of climate change”.

Valérie Pécresse, the regional representative, referenced plans for “1,000 fountains” and the creation of “a network of climate shelters.”

Additionally, the region has set a target of increasing its green space by 5,000 hectares by 2030. The targets of this plan would include priority urban spaces: schoolyards, parking lots, squares, as well as cemeteries.

In 2003, the country suffered a historic heatwave that resulted in at least 14,000 heat-related deaths. Since then, France and its cities have begun adapting to rising temperatures by working to increase green space, provide ‘heat

An analysis from the BBC in 2021 found that “the number of extremely hot days every year when the temperature reaches 50C has doubled since the 1980s.”

READ MORE: Trees to trams: How French cities are adapting to summer heatwaves

This will not be the first simulation activity to anticipate or help the public become aware of rising temperatures. 

In 2014, meteorologist Evelyne Dhéliat gave a ‘fake forecast’ pretending that the year was 2050. The temperatures on her map however, ended up being eerily close to those France has seen regularly since 2019.