From: David Evans, Reuters
Published July 12, 2005 12:00 AM

France Steps up Water Curbs as Drought Intensifies

PARIS — France extended water rationing to more than half the country on Monday as its worst drought in decades intensified and farmers said food output might suffer.

"The drought that France has witnessed since September has been re-inforced by a heatwave at the end of June," said the environment ministry's drought bulletin, published on Monday.

"The drought is affecting a large part of the country."

Months of low rainfall have left the water table seriously depleted, particularly in the west.

The government has imposed water restrictions ranging from bans on car washing and filling swimming pools to curbs on crop irrigation in 50 of mainland France's 96 departments.


"The most severe restrictions have been put in place in those departments on the Atlantic coast. They mostly concern irrigation," the ministry said.

As temperatures across France began to rise again on Monday, the ministry warned of a high risk of forest fires and possible disruptions to domestic drinking water supplies.

Almost 10,000 people were evacuated from campsites in the south of France last week after a forest fire destroyed 1,000 hectares of pine trees near the resort of Frejus.

However, Environment Minister Nelly Olin said improvements in national water distribution meant there would not be a repeat of 1976, when the country experienced widespread shortages.

"We are extremely well prepared for drought," she told Le Parisien newspaper on Sunday.

She also said a repeat of the unpopular drought tax, imposed in 1976 to compensate farmers, was "out of the question".


But farmers are warning of potential losses, particularly for the country's maize crop in the southwest, the main growing area. Wheat harvesting is already under way but maize, which needs more irrigation, is not brought in until September.

"The high temperatures (in June), most intense in the southwest and east of France, have exacerbated the fragile situation concerning water resources in many regions," the maize growers' association AGPM said.

It said yields could drop by up to 30 percent or even more where irrigation was impossible. More rain was needed urgently.

"Insufficient water in July will take an irreversible toll."

Just two years ago, French grain production, a key export for the country, dropped some 20 percent after frost, drought and a summer heatwave battered crops.

Olin said she recognised the difficulties farmers faced but would be strict in applying a 1,500 euro ($1,801) fine on those who broke the government's water curbs.

"I understand their concerns. But I say to them that there is no solution other than partly turning off the irrigation taps. I'd like to praise the efforts of those who have switched to crops that use less water," she said.

The government has also won permission from Brussels for farmers to use land idled under EU programmes for grazing animals because usual pastures were too dry. This measure has been granted in 77 departments.

Source: Reuters

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