Drought: France’s rivers at a worrying level

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The historic drought affecting France is affecting many river activities. Even some canals are closed to navigation. The drought that has affected France this summer is putting the waterways to the test. While restrictions on the use of water are imposed on almost the entire territory – a first – the level of rivers, streams and canals is historically low, forcing the Voies navigables de France (VNF) to close certain axes to navigation “As of August 2, nearly 580 km of canals are closed of the 6,700 km of rivers, streams and canals” managed by the public establishment, notes Cécilevezard, VNF’s Rhône Saône regional director. SEE ALSO – In a context of “history” of drought, Christophe Béchu gives “priority to drinking water” The Rhine at its lowest flowThe Rhine, the backbone of Western Europe that stretches over 1233 kilometers, suffers especially For about ten days, the river has been in low water (low water due to drought). At the end of July, VNF recorded a flow of 550 m3/sa Strasbourg, that is, half of the average flow. Last year at the same time, even a flood had brought it to 4000m3/s. Boats are now forced to reduce their load to a third of their usual weight so that their hull does not touch the bottom.Also readDrought: A dry summer for whitewater recreation professionalsThe river level downstream, in German territory, it is also critical. According to the newspaper Die Welt, “the Rhine may soon be impassable for freight.” On the weekend of August 6-7, the river level at Kaub, an important crossing point for trade, is expected to be 47 centimeters. Or just seven centimeters from the limit of impassability.A container ship passes through the Loreley Rock, loaded to a third of its capacity, in the Rhine July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay The extent of the drought also runs the risk of complicating operations to replace Russian gas with coal in anticipation of this winter, nearly a third of this resource is transported on the Rhine, investment bank Berenberg indicates.25 million cubic meters water already injected into the Garonne South-West is also very affected by the lack of rain. The level of the Garonne is experiencing alarming thresholds, despite the constant low water support (water addition to the natural flow). At the beginning of August, the river, which runs more than 529 km, has a flow of 40 m3/second, compared to an average of 70 to 100 m3/second in summer, on a large scale in the coming weeks? in June it caused an accelerated melting of the snow in the mountains which, therefore, could not feed the river in July. High temperatures have also resulted in significant water needs for vegetation and agricultural production. To maintain the level of the river, “of the 80 million cubic meters of reserve water, 25 million have already been released in the Garonne”, warns Jean-Michel Fabre, president of SMEAG (Joint Union of Studies and Development). the Garonne) and departmental councilor The level of the Garonne in Toulouse has been very low since the beginning of summer. Frederic Scheiber / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect According to the elected, the Toulouse river has already reached an alert level. However, the department is very dependent on the river. “The Garonne provides drinking water to more than 1 million inhabitants”, “irrigates 70,000 hectares for agriculture”, underlines Jean-Michel Fabre. Its water is also used by “the paper industry”, and to “cool the Golfech nuclear power station”, he adds, cruise ships are also sanctioned. For example, they are forced to cancel their stairs that connect the docks of Bordeaux with the vineyards upstream. In Toulouse de Languedoc, on the Canal du Midi frequented by tourists, VNF asks boats to group together when passing through the locks, in order to save water. “During these periods of drought, it becomes more and more difficult to reconcile all uses,” observes VNF. The difficulties of navigating the Loire Loire are also in sharp decline. A traditional boat company based in Saumur confirms that it is becoming more and more difficult to pass through certain places in the river, to the point of “scratching on the gravel”, I have never seen it, there are practically no more fish”. testifies a manager of excursions. “Normally, sailors use between seven and eight ship propellers a year, there are more than 18 propellers,” he warns. The temperature of France’s longest river also poses difficulties: “To cool the engines, skippers are forced to use blocks of ice,” says the Saumur company. Finally, some destinations are no longer offered to customers. In Saumur, the level of the Loire is very low. Water is non-existent in places. Frederic Petry / Hans Lucas via Reuters ConnectRiver tourism is also heavily affected by the closure of the canals. These man-made artificial roads are highly dependent on rainfall. “Due to a lack of draft, especially in the Grand Est and Burgundy, many canals are closed to navigation: the Marne-Rhine Canal, the Ardennes Canal, the Vosges Canal, the Champagne-Burgundy Canal, the Meuse, the Burgundy Canal…” he enumerates Cécilevezard. Concerned fishermen As for fishing, the National Federation expresses its pessimism. “In 2070, in particular under the effect of climate change, the flow of rivers will decrease drastically (between 15 and 40%). If we maintain the current model, the level of the Seine, for example, will drop significantly by around 30%”. Just like the number of fish, what about the next few years? For Jean-Michel Fabre, it is essential to change behavior if we want to be able to cope with the vagaries of the climate. “Water does not come to the tap by itself. It is a common good that must be preserved”, he insists. SEE ALSO – “It is exceptional in season”: in Brittany, the water watchdogs track the drought
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