French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to Savines-le-Lac in Hautes-Alpes département on Thursday, in order to lay out his plans for how France will be able to reduce water usage, just a few weeks after the country registered 32 days without water – a record-breaking winter drought.
The summer of 2022 in France was marked by scorching temperatures and record droughts and the unusually dry winter has failed to recharge groundwater supplies. Such events are predicted to become more and more common in the years ahead due to the climate crisis.
The government therefore wants to reduce the entire country’s waster usage by 10 percent by 2030.
Similar to the plan for energy savings during winter 2022 – when France managed to reduce electricity consumption by around nine percent over the winter – the water saving plan will be implemented sector by sector – meaning that the energy, tourism, agriculture and heavy industry sectors (including nuclear) will be asked to come up with their own industry-specific plans to decrease water consumption.
“Beyond the urgency of this summer, this is above all a plan of savings and efficiency in the long term”, Macron said.
How the plan will work
Macron said that the plan will be implemented across five axes: sector-by-sector water savings plans, fighting against water loss, reusing wastewater, better planning for water usage in the agriculture industry, and the institution of progressive water pricing.
In terms of cost, the head of state said that the budget for ‘water agencies’ would increase by €500 million per year – which will end up being an increase in the general budget for the ‘water economy’ of €6 billion.
The government is giving €180 million to 170 communities that are identified as ‘blackspots’ for leakage that wastes water, with the roughly 2,000 communes that either ran out of water or were close to doing so in 2022 identified as a priority. You can see the map showing where the 170 communities are located HERE.
Discover the map of the 170 priority French municipalities in the fight against leaks on distribution networks.
💧 In France, 1 in 5 liters of water is lost before it reaches our taps. #planeau
— franceinfo plus (@franceinfoplus) March 30, 2023
Currently one litre of drinking water in every five is leaking, according to Macron.
France is currently lagging behind in reusing wastewater – only one percent of wastewater in France is reused, compared with 8 percent in Italy, 14 percent in Spain and 85 percent in Israel.
Macron set a target of increasing this to 10 percent by 2030, saying that coastal areas where pressure on water is highest will be the priority and promising to reduce ‘administrative burdens’ on new schemes.
The agriculture sector is the biggest water user in France, especially in the summer, so announcements in this area are particularly important.
Macron did not announce any restrictions on farmers, but instead talked about introducing new technology such as “intelligent ‘drip’ systems” for water use and helping farmers to adapt their techniques as the climate changes.
He said: “I believe in our agriculture, but it is obvious that there will be areas that will have to be brought to other types of cultivation”, because “the soils are changing so we must adapt our modes of cultivation.
“Farmers who set up in 2023 will need to be able to adapt to the climate of 2050.”
He announced an extra €30 million to farmers to help them adapt.
He also called for better sharing of water supplies, saying that “it is not a question or privatising water or allowing some to monopolise it” – likely a reference to recent protests against the building of mega-basins (reservoirs) for the irrigation of French farmland, which has been a source of controversy in recent days and months.
READ MORE: Méga-bassines: Why has a dispute over irrigation in French farmland turned violent?
Introducing the idea of progressive pricing as an incentive to limit water use, he stressed “this does not mean that the price of water will increase”, explaining that the “water we need” is priced at close to the cost price, but “beyond a certain level the price per cubic metre will be higher”.
He gave no details on the limits beyond which the price will rise, or how high price increases will be.
The government will also develop an app, similar to the electricity-saving app EcoWatt, so that households can track their water usage.
Local authorities will continue to set regulations regarding water consumption during periods of droughts, but the president explained that he hoped these might also be communicated using the Ecowatt-like device.