Macron unveils France’s plan to share, reuse and save water in the face of drought

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists upon his arrival in Sainte-Savine-Le-Lac, southeastern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists upon his arrival in Sainte-Savine-Le-Lac, southeastern France.   -  Copyright  Sebastien Nogier, Pool via AP
By Rosie Frost  with AFP

This winter the country went a record 32 days without rain leaving reservoirs well below normal levels.

French President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled a water crisis plan aimed at conserving this resource in the face of persistent drought.

On Thursday (30 March) he revealed some 50 measures to share, reuse and save water.

It was the first major announcement after weeks focused on the pension bill which has triggered protests across the country. President Macron was met with a group of around 200 protesters angry at the plan to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64.

But he said he was ready to move on to other topics.

“Protests are normal,” Macron told reporters at a press conference in Savines-le-Lac, in the Alps, “but that does not mean we should stop.”

Why is water such a contentious topic in France?

Last year, France experienced its worst drought on record. This winter the country went a record 32 days without rain. It left reservoirs 80 per cent below normal levels at the beginning of March.

Around 58 per cent of the country’s water goes to agriculture, and farmers say they need large reservoirs to keep their crops alive.

Environmental groups disagree and see projects to build them as an attempt by agribusiness to monopolise water supplies. A recent anti-reservoir protest in Saint-Soline in western France turned violent.

AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File
A usually submerged section of the lake Serre-Poncon in southern France is revealed due to drought.AP Photo/Daniel Cole, File

"It is not a question of privatising water or allowing some to take it over," Macron said. He called for future projects to be conditioned by "significant changes in practices", starting with water savings and reduced pesticide use by farmers.

26 per cent of the country’s water is drinkable, 12 per cent is used to cool down nuclear power stations and 4 per cent goes to industry.

In some French towns, half of all water is lost to leaks. Nationwide, an average of 20 per cent is lost in this way.

With concerns that droughts and heatwaves could be even worse this summer, water is a pivotal issue for the country. Climate experts anticipate that supplies could decrease by 10 to 40 per cent in the coming decades.

What is included in France’s water ‘sobriety’ plan?

The 53 different measures included in the water “sobriety” plan look at ways of reusing and sharing water as well as avoiding leaks. They are targeted at “energy, industry, tourism, recreation” according to the President, but individuals will also be asked to do their part.

"In the face of change, there are necessary constraints, we must explain them, share them and make each and everyone aware of their responsibilities," the French President said.

Macron announced an emergency fund of €180 million to fix leaks and upgrade networks in the most at-risk towns. Nuclear power stations, one of France’s biggest consumers of water, will also see an investment programme to allow them to adapt their cooling systems to current conditions.

Once basic needs are covered, water will become more expensive for those who use a lot of the resource. The move is meant to encourage both people and businesses to conserve supplies, he added.

A new app will also inform residents if water usage has reached critical levels in their area. It will be similar to the Ecowatt app launched to help encourage people to reduce energy usage this winter.

Macron also called for the reuse of “300 million cubic metres, or 3 Olympic swimming pools” of water per commune every year. The target is to reuse 10 per cent of all wastewater by 2030.

Watch the video above to learn more about France's 'water sobriety' plan.

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