Water-strapped France gets tough on lawn owners

Residents across most of the country are being called on to save water and the police are making the rounds to ensure they are

Most of France has now been put on drought alert in an effort to mitigate the impact of an increasingly devastating dry spell. All but three of the country’s 96 departments are encouraging or outright ordering residents to save water, the nation’s Ministry of Ecological Transition said on Thursday. The police have been tasked with monitoring compliance with the restrictions.

As have many other European countries, France has faced extreme heat waves and droughts this summer, which have prompted water restrictions to be introduced. Four levels have been designated: vigilance, alert (yellow), heightened alert (orange), and crisis (red).

As of July 28, 2022, 93 departments have introduced restrictions beyond vigilance level at least in some part of their territory: 9 were put on alert, 38 on heightened alert, and 46 are in crisis state,” the ministry indicated.

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A wild plant on a soil cracked by drought during in southern France. © AFP / Nicolas Tucat
France limits water usage

The police are now routinely making the rounds to inspect local neighborhoods, according to media reports.

The TV broadcaster BFM said that law enforcement was trying to prevent locals from watering their lawns by “looking for the smallest jet of water.” According to Jean-Noel Rieffel, regional director of the French Office of Biodiversity, in most cases the police only remind locals about the restrictions but will take action in case of repeated violation. Violators may face a fine of up to €1,500 ($1,531).

It’s not only private citizens that are being watched. According to the report, law enforcement agents have inspected a golf course, while in another instance police stumbled upon an artificial pond that used water from a nearby river, which is strictly prohibited.

There’s nothing to discuss here. That’s a flagrant [violation]. The Yser river is now really under the maximum pressure. If such violations are many, we will fail,” said Herve Tourmente, sub-prefect of Dunkirk, a commune in the Nord department near the Belgian border.

Given the dire situation in many regions, water usage is being carefully controlled. The impacted areas have seen local farmers cut down on water consumption for agricultural purposes by up to 50%.

The drought affects not only agriculture but also common citizens, many of whom have had to refrain from washing their cars and watering gardens during the hottest hours of the day. In departments with the “red” crisis level, water usage is authorized only for health and hydration purposes.