Mar 30, 2023
Macron Sets Out Water Plan as Exceptional Droughts Become Normal
(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron set out a nationwide plan to preserve water as the country braces for another summer of droughts, wildfires and dried-up rivers.
Climate experts don’t expect the situation to improve, so consumers and industry need to use less and waste less of the resource, he said in a speech during a trip to the Alps on Thursday.
“Last year, we had an exceptional drought compared with what we were used to, but it won’t be exceptional compared with what we become used to,” Macron said. “Change is already here.”
Europe had an unusually mild winter and a lack of rain so far to replenish groundwater following a summer that saw record temperatures, historic droughts, wildfires that destroyed thousands of hectares of forest and major rivers so low that transport barges could no longer pass.
The dearth of precipitation is prompting concerns at French utilities Electricite de France SA and Engie SA, which produce most of the country’s hydropower. Water is also essential to help cool EDF’s nuclear reactors, which provide the bulk of France’s electricity.
Four-fifths of water tables are low or very low, following a record 32 days without rain at the start of the year, Macron said. The winter drought followed on from the hottest year on record.
To tackle the coming summer, the government plans to introduce a tool with timely information on the drought situation and will ask different sectors to come up with plans to cut water use. This includes energy, industry, tourism, leisure and agriculture.
By 2030, the president said he wants consumption to be reduced by 10% in all sectors, part of a 53-point plan released Thursday.
Macron said €180 million will be provided each year to municipalities for measures to reduce leaks in the water system and to protect drinking supply. One liter in every five is currently lost. In some areas this rises to one in two.
Funds available to water authorities will be increased by €500 million per year to help implement the plan, he said.
Nuclear reactors will have to be adapted to save water and be able to operate increasingly in closed circuits, Macron said.
Macron also set a goal of treating 10% of wastewater for reuse by 2030, up from just 1% currently. Water utilities Veolia Environnement SA, Suez SA and Saur have been advocating for France to follow countries like Spain, where such water serves for irrigation, street cleaning and watering gardens.
The government response to increased water scarcity has sometimes become a flashpoint for environmental activists. Violent clashes broke out between protesters and police in western France on the weekend over the construction of reservoirs that campaigners say will provide irrigation for the agriculture industry at the expense of the water table, aggravating droughts in surrounding areas.
The president condemned the events, saying: “You have thousands of people who simply came to wage war. It’s unacceptable.”
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