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Faced with summer restrictions, this is how France uses its water

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France withdraws approximately 31 billion cubic meters of freshwater from natural resources every year. In the face of an ongoing winter drought that could lead to water restrictions this summer, FRANCE 24 looks at the different ways the country uses water.

France experienced a historic drought in the summer of 2022, followed by an equally dry winter. The alarm bells are still ringing this year as the country braces for another dry summer. On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, restrictions have been imposed in four French departments: Aine, Isère, Bouches de Rhône and Pyrenees-Oriental. Residents in these areas are prohibited from watering their lawns, filling swimming pools and farmers from irrigating their crops.

“There are still [of departments facing restrictions] will inevitably grow,” Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu warned on Monday night, calling on authorities in France’s seven river basins to issue a restraining order “as of now” means a summer drought.

Whether in agriculture, industry or domestic use, “sobriety” and “water saving” are the slogans currently used by the French government. FRANCE 24 decided to take stock of the country’s water use and consumption.

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Withdrawing approximately 31 billion cubic meters of fresh water per year

According to statistics, France withdraws about 31 billion cubic meters of fresh water every year from rivers and groundwater sources. Ministry of Ecological Transition. Compared with the average available water volume of 208 billion cubic meters, this may not seem like much. But to maintain a balanced ecosystem, most water must remain in nature.

Also, depending on rainfall, water supply renewals can vary widely from one year to the next.Taking 2019 as an example, it is estimated that only 142 billion cubic meters3 available water, far from the average level of 208 billion. And that’s what worries scientists and meteorologists in the summer of 2023.According to the French National Weather Service Meteo FranceFifteen of the past 18 months have had insufficient rainfall.

Another problem is that most water withdrawals occur during the summer, when groundwater and river levels are already at their lowest. The French Ministry of Ecology estimates that 60% of water use occurs between June and August.

So where did all that fresh water go? While some of it is used domestically, flowing through our faucets and showerheads, the rest is used for economic purposes, mainly for cooling (mostly nuclear) power plants.

How does France use water? © Studio graphique FMM studio

It is important to note that water used to cool power plants and supply water wheels comes from surface water such as rivers or reservoirs, while water used for drinking, agriculture or industry comes from surface water and groundwater.

Agriculture, major consumer of water

It is also important to consider that water withdrawn for consumption is water that is not returned to its natural source after use. However, the water sent to the nuclear power plant is used in an open circuit, so it returns to nature after use. As for farming, water used for livestock is never sent back.

Between 2008 and 2019, France pumped an average of 5.3 billion cubic meters of water per year. This time around, agriculture is the largest user of water, far ahead of power plant cooling, industry and drinking water.

Agriculture is a major water user in France
Agriculture is a major water user in France © Studio graphique FMM studio

“In agriculture, water is mainly used to irrigate crops,” explains Sami Bouarfa, a researcher at the French Institute. national institute of agriculture, food and environment (INRAE) and Deputy Director AQUA department“Even though only 6 percent of all arable land needs to be irrigated.”

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The type of water use varies by sector. According to the Ministry of Ecology’s 2021 environmental report, the Adour-Garonne basin in southwestern France is home to the majority of agricultural extraction. On the other hand, the Rhone-Mediterranean basin uses water in power plants and is the most water-scarce region. As for the Seine-Normandie and Picardy basins, the water withdrawn is mainly used for the production of drinking water.

A Frenchman consumes 149 liters of drinking water per day

In 2020, 5.5 billion cubic meters of water will be extracted from natural water sources and converted into drinking water.But according to statistics, by the end of the year, only 3.7 billion latest report From the French Public Water and Sanitation Services Observatory (SISPEA). This discrepancy is entirely due to leaks in the pipes that carry our drinking water from the source to the tap. SISPEA estimates that 20% of France’s drinking water, or 1 in 5 liters, is lost through leaks.

drinking water
drinking water © Studio graphique FMM studio

Waste aside, a French person consumes an average of 149 liters of drinking water per day, close to the European average of 200 liters, but well below the 600 liters the average American consumes per day. In water-scarce countries, per capita daily water consumption can drop to less than 20 liters.

according to Water Information Center, about 93% of the water used in French households is used for sanitation – showering, flushing the toilet or using the washing machine. The remaining 7% is used for food. An average of 200 liters of water is used for car washing, about 50 liters for showering and about 60 liters for washing clothes.

Primary Household Uses of Drinking Water
Primary Household Uses of Drinking Water © Studio graphique FMM studio

In addition to domestic use, there is collective drinking water for schools and hospitals.

This article has been translated from the original French text.

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