Water restrictions: what is allowed (or not) during this drought episode

While a fourth heat wave is affecting France, with a peak expected on Friday, all mainland departments are subject to a drought alert. To deal with a lack of water, drastic measures can thus be taken there to limit the uses of water, or even suspend them in certain cases.

Until what point ? Before going into details, you should already know that four levels of limitation exist, depending on the intensity of the drought episode: vigilance, alert, heightened alert and crisis. The restrictions are logically different there: the level of vigilance, the lowest, in particular in force in part of Île-de-France, for example simply encourages individuals and professionals to limit their consumption. Currently, 93 departments are affected by a restriction that goes beyond vigilance: three on alert, 23 on heightened alert and 67 in crisis. And everywhere, an environmental police track those who do not obey these new constraints, with fines of up to 1500 euros.

The level of severity limiting the uses of water in France on August 8, 2022. LP / Infographic

Another small complexity: if the levels are defined for the departments, the application of the restrictions can sometimes be done on a smaller scale, depending on the water supply basins. It is the prefect who has the last word and who informs the populations directly through the mayors. For example, in the Ardèche department (classified as “crisis”), the town of Aubenas is only concerned by the heightened alert level. The north of the department, which includes part of the city of Valence, is classified as “crisis”.

So what are you allowed to do these days in your use of water? To guide you, here is a non-exhaustive list of questions that you may have already asked yourself these days and which we answer.

Can I water my plants and my garden?

If your department is concerned by the “alert” level, it is forbidden to water your plants and your garden between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. If it is on “enhanced alert” or in “crisis”, the watering of lawns is even totally prohibited, whether for individuals, businesses, communities and farmers. Only the watering of vegetable gardens is authorized at these alert levels from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

In the Haut-Rhin, classified in “crisis” since Thursday August 4, the city of Colmar, labeled “four flowers” ​​requested an exemption from the prefecture of the department to continue watering the communal flower beds. This has not yet come to fruition. Other municipalities could follow.

Should I limit my time in the shower?

According to the guide for implementing measures to restrict water use in times of drought, nothing is mentioned about showers. In any case, it would be very difficult to control its use in private individuals. But it seems logical to limit your showers and the time you spend there as much as possible. The government’s only recommendation is to avoid letting the water run.

Can I fill and drain my pool?

At the “alert” and “enhanced alert” thresholds, filling is prohibited except for leveling, and a first filling is authorized if the work started before the first restrictions. Nothing is mentioned about emptying. On the other hand, if your department is on the threshold of a “crisis”, it is forbidden to fill and empty its swimming pool.

Can I wash my vehicle?

Regardless of your alert level, car washing at your home is prohibited. It is necessary to turn to professionals, themselves subject to strict restrictions: at the level of “alert” and “reinforced alert”, the ban is maintained except with high pressure equipment and with a system equipped with a water recycling system. At the threshold of “crisis”, the ban is also in order except health imperative.

Can I use the beach showers?

When questioned, the Ministry of Ecological Transition affirms that the cessation of beach showers is not planned for the moment at the national level. The ban, if there was a ban, would be decided between the prefectures and the municipalities, at the local level, again according to the ministry.

This is already the case of La Grande Motte (Hérault), which has taken the decision to cut off the water from the showers on the beaches from this Monday. The department is placed at the threshold of “enhanced alert”. Footwashes, except those located near aid stations, are not exempt from this sanction. Note that, since 2019, the Hérault prefecture has ordered the removal of many beach showers in various seaside resorts in the department.

The question is the same for urban taps but the government has not communicated on this subject either. Local management should also be required here.

Can I clean my house myself (façade, sidewalks, etc.)?

It is forbidden to clean your house alone, regardless of the alert level. In the departments concerned by the “alert” and “reinforced alert” levels, such an intervention is possible only if it is carried out by a community or a professional cleaning company. At the threshold of “crisis”, the condition is the same but in addition, the activity is only authorized in the event of a health imperative.

Can I take advantage of the foggers?

Like beach showers, the government has not communicated on water misters, which are very popular for cooling off. The decision could be taken at the local level, as in Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), whose department is concerned by the maximum alert level. Since August 3, 2022, the City has decided to cut off the water from misting devices on public roads. The water jets are also suspended there.

Should I limit the use of my household appliances (dishwasher, washing machine, etc.)?

Like the shower, nothing is stipulated concerning the use of appliances that consume a lot of water. The Ministry of Ecological Transition recommends using the washing machines at full capacity, in other words placing as many things as possible in them before use. But here again, it is impossible to control potential abuse.

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