In the dry Southeast, water sharing is tightening

It is a huge water tower that many thought was inexhaustible and whose exceptional drought this year 2022 suddenly reveals the limits. Behind its blue lakes, its cool gorges and its typical canals, the Durance-Verdon system constitutes a complex scheme for storing, capturing and distributing the waters of these two rivers which cross Haute-Provence from east to west.

In stages for several centuries and within the framework of a national plan from 1955, this network controlled by man has disciplined rivers with devastating floods, while responding, effectively until now, to the multiple needs from the areas located downstream to the major tourist towns of the Mediterranean coast.

The Durance and Verdon hydroelectric installations, managed by EDF, normally provide 12% of national electricity production and represent a power equal to that of two nuclear power stations. The catchments made on the two rivers allow the supply of drinking water to 3.5 million inhabitants and the irrigation of 80,000 hectares of agricultural land for a total of nearly 2 billion cubic meters of water. Finally, the creation of artificial lakes, whose summer level was previously guaranteed by agreement by EDF, has given rise to essential tourism for many Alpine municipalities.

“The system was sized during a period when the snowpack on the Alps was very important. Years when it was necessary to manage the overproduction of water more than its lack. Users stuck with this idea,” regrets Jacques EspItalier, mayor of Quinson (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) and vice-president of the Verdon water development and management plan. In seventy years, the population in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has almost doubled to exceed five million inhabitants. And downstream consumption has steadily increased.

Water is at the heart of multiple issues, managed in a tight balance by a series of mixed syndicates and local authorities, under the careful control of the State. With, today, a central question: which uses to reduce if the reduction of the resource, linked to global warming, will be confirmed in the coming years?

“Resilience Plan”

Through the voice of their professional organizations, farmers fiercely defend their priority. “The first necessity is to have food”, summarizes Romain Blanchard, president of the federation of farmers (FDSEA) in the Bouches-du-Rhône.
Drinking water supply is another unavoidable emergency. In July, the Toulon conurbation thus switched to the Canal de Provence network, supplied by the Verdon, to compensate for the historically low level of its usual resources.

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