Droughts: their management requires a “radical change”, points out a report

Droughts their management requires a radical change points out a

The disaster is not far away. The “worst” was avoided during the drought of the summer of 2022, particularly in terms of a break in the supply of drinking water. But “strong measures” are needed to avoid such a scenario in the future, underlines the report of an interministerial mission whose official publication is scheduled for April 11. The idea: to scrutinize the administrative management of the water crisis that occurred during this drought “probably the most severe for at least half a century”. The mission notes an “awakening of awareness” which “calls for a radical change in our water management methods and our practices”, is it in this report commissioned by the government and consulted by AFP, whose newspaper Release echoed this Saturday.

This interministerial mission notes that “the worst was avoided during the management of the 2022 drought thanks on the one hand to the exceptional mobilization of all the actors, and on the other hand to a high level of filling of the water tables and retained at the end of winter 2021-2022”. However, “such conditions could no longer be met if a similar phenomenon were to recur in the coming years, or even as early as 2023”, she warns. In question: the absence of rain at the start of the year in France, but also the organization of exceptional events, such as the Rugby World Cup in the summer of 2023 then the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024. As many elements which “impose particular vigilance as to the risk of a break in the supply of drinking water”.

So what is the way forward? The administration formulates 18 recommendations aimed at better understanding the extent of the problem, better anticipating it and providing information. Eight were included in the Water plan presented on March 30 by President Emmanuel Macron. The authors tackle in particular the thorny question of sobriety, recalling the objective of a 10% reduction in levies by 2024 – a target now postponed to 2030 by the executive. “The mission recommends to the ministries in charge of each sector to invite the actors to draw up national roadmaps for water savings.”

Golf courses in the sights

With regard to agriculture, which accounts for 58% of national water consumption to irrigate crops or water animals, the mission considers that “the recurrence of droughts highlights the fragility of our agricultural model and the imperative need for a massive collective effort to accelerate its transformation”.

The authors also reveal that prefects navigated on sight or delayed in making decisions. They also suggest a “more precise national framework” to help prefects overwhelmed with requests for exemption in the event of restrictions on withdrawals, and in the face of measures perceived by the public as too severe (closure of car washes) or too lax ( watering of golf courses). In his article, Release recalls the four levels of severity: vigilance, alert, heightened alert or crisis. “In practice, the gradation has not always been respected by the prefects”, underlines the daily. After crossing a threshold, it has sometimes passed fifteen days “before the entry into force of the restrictive measures” on the water.

The members of this mission are also looking into this symbolic question of sports practices and allude, without naming names, to a “derogation obtained by a national level football club” to water its lawn. They believe that the exemption enjoyed by golf courses for watering in times of crisis is “not understandable”. This is explained by a framework agreement signed between the French Golf Federation and the Ministries of Ecological Transition, Agriculture and Sports. According to Christophe Béchu, most of the recommendations of the mission are already included in the government water plan or “are the subject of instructions to the prefects or ministerial services”.

Furthermore, the report also deplores a lack of data, including data on the number of municipalities facing drinking water supply difficulties. “No information system currently identifies the tensions encountered by municipalities in times of drought in terms of drinking water,” he points out. The full count would not have been obtained until October, according to Release. The mission recommends “putting in place a system for monitoring the impacts of droughts in near real time and delayed, in particular on drinking water, on the environment and on economic activities”. In parallel, the mission also points the finger at the communication of the government whose decisions would have benefited “from being better relayed to all the actors, in particular industrialists”.

For his part, Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, believes that the project for a possible toughening of sanctions “in the event of non-compliance with decrees prohibiting irrigation, for example […]requires a little more time”. He notes in passing that the arrests, last summer, “have not always (been) followed by effects or fines” among offenders. the actors do not all take the path of sobriety”, regretted the minister.