water, a precious commodity to be protectedwhich is rare. “We are talking about blue gold more and more”, confirms Jean-Noël Rieffel of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB) in Loiret. Its agents, the “water police”, have multiplied checks in recent weeks, while all metropolitan departments are now affected by the drought, including 93 affected by restrictive measures. 4,000, since the beginning of May.
In detail, 93 out of 96 metropolitan departments are on Tuesday on “alert” for drought, with restrictions in progress. The last three, Paris and its inner suburbs, are preparing to enter a state of “vigilance”, the first level of the scale of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, with a simple incentive to save water. But on Monday, the Minister of Ecology Christophe Béchu, visiting Isère, said that other water restrictions were “on the table”.
Controllers “favor pedagogy”
“There are indeed a lot of checks at the moment and we are doing more and more of them”, assures Loïc Obled, deputy director general of the “Police, knowledge, expertise” department at the OFB, invited this Tuesday on franceinfo. “We carried out around 500 checks in May, 2,000 checks last week and we dedicated the week which has just passed to a major national operation of pedagogy and control. And we have doubled this figure since we arrive today at 4,000 checks throughout the national territory.
Given the weather forecast for the coming days, the checks will continue, warns Loïc Obled. But “our colleagues are currently giving priority, and even more so in this period of pronounced drought, to pedagogy”, he assures. Especially since water restrictions vary enormously from one catchment area to another. On the same department, we can thus find different levels of alert, with as many differences in restrictions.
“We try to announce controls, to be visible on the ground. And when we see that there is an infraction, in agreement with the prosecution, we can either do pedagogy or, when people are a little more recalcitrant, proceed to a verbalization”, explains Loïc Obled.
Fines up to 7,000 euros
“We have already imposed fines since the beginning of the summer”, confirms Loïc Obled. Of the 4,000 checks carried out, approximately 400 procedures are in progresswhich range from a reminder to the law to a fifth-class fine, i.e. “up to 1,500 euros” for a first offence, “3,000 euros in the event of a repeat offense” and “can go up to more than 7,000 euros” for a legal person such as a company, “a farm for example”. A necessary evil for the OFB. “The environment and biodiversity are very degraded in our country, we must protect them, and that is our role”, defends its director, Pierre Dubreuil, to AFP.
Each department has 12 to 20 agents. Not enough given the circumstances this year, according to him, but he has started “a dialogue with the State to ask for more resources.” Farmers, professionals, local authorities, individuals, controls therefore vary from one department to another. “We try to prioritize according to the issues” locals, explains Loïc Obled. “It can be domestic water, water for collective use, water for industrial use or water for agricultural irrigation”.
Farmers watch their crops wither
Some farmers prefer take the risk of watering despite the restrictionsto save their crops. “I have to irrigate if I want to have food for my cows, to be independent”, argues Nicolas Fiolleau, farmer in the town of Vieillevigne, on France Bleu Loire Océan. Hubert, a farmer from Saint-Julien-l’Ars met by France Bleu Poitou, has already been fined several times. If derogations from the prefecture exist for essential crops, its fields are not part of them. “My sunflowers are sulking”, he despairs. He no longer knows how to save them.
Tomatoes, eggplants, garlic, onions and potatoes are also suffering in the greenhouses of Laëtitia, market gardener in Ruffey-lès-Beaune, to whom France Bleu Bourgogne went. His plants “are all small”. Unsaleable. “It’s catastrophic. We spend 12 hours a day at work and there is nothing at the end. I have been working for three years and earning nothing. It’s hard. Becoming a market gardener was my dream. It’s starting to get complicated.” she says. As a result, the farmers of Haute-Saône have appealed for state aid, reports France Bleu Besançon.
A shortfall for professionals
Other professions are affected by this drought. France Bleu Touraine, for example, met the golf director of La Gloriette, Jacques Van Hauwe, who said he was worried about the future: “We inevitably have fears, in particular of no longer being able to water the greens. And there, you might as well close the shop.”
Another example, a car wash of Sauxillanges, in Puy-de-Dôme. According to France Bleu Pays d’Auvergne, the owner received a call to order. “We see, with the traces, that it was recently used. There is no information panel which explains that it is forbidden to wash your car at the moment”, explains Bruno Le Chevillier, the head of service of the OFB in the department. On the phone, the owner ensures that the station will be decommissioned the same evening. No fine this time, then. But an obvious shortfall, notes France Bleu Armorique, who met other professionals in the sector.
“The water used to clean the cars is stored, then filtered to return to our circuits”, annoys the boss of the Blue Elephant in Saint-Berthevin, questioned by France Bleu Mayenne where these stations have also closed. A hypocrisy, for Ludovic Fraboulet, the manager of Mouss’ Auto in Laval, who fears that customers wash their cars at home in secret. Gold “a station wash is 50 to 70 liters, at home with the hose it’s 250 to 300 liters of water. Ecologically it’s not great”he argues.
Less recalcitrant individuals?
France Bleu Drôme Ardèche has spotted other recalcitrants, such as the municipality of Valence, which will continue to water the trees in the city despite the prefectural ban. For the LR mayor of Valence, Nicolas Daragon, stopping watering would be counterproductive : “The places with trees are places where people take refuge when it is extremely hot. If the trees die, we will only have heat islands.”
The French office for biodiversity also conducts checks on individuals. If the agents cannot enter the properties to check that they do not fill their swimming pool, the controllers can on the other hand observe from the street. But as noted by Aurélien Viau, deputy director of the French office for biodiversity in Loire-Atlantique, “People are well aware. We also observe that many people in private homes have restricted themselves even before the measures.”
“The vast majority of offenders are bona fide, also assures Pierre Dubreuil, director of the OFB. When we tell them not to water the garden or wash their car, the majority of people did not know, do not understand, so we explain without verbalizing.
Damage to wild animals
OFB agents are finally responsible for monitoring the health of waterways, and therefore of the fauna that lives there. On the banks of the Loire, it is the role of Pierre Steinbach, interviewed by France Bleu Orléans, who regularly takes the temperature of the water. Two weeks ago, it read more than 30°C, “a critical temperature for several species of fish, invertebrates and shellfish such as pearl mussels, trout, salmon and there is salmon in the Loire. For these species, it is a lethal temperature which threatens their survival”he worries.
In Creuse, the Goze is dry in places and the little water still visible is stagnant, noted France Bleu Creuse. “In 35 years of career, I have never seen this so early in the season“, laments Patrick Depalle, environmental inspector at the Creuse departmental service. “The most fragile species die, and in particular the fry of the year – those who were born in the year. A year like that, there is really a big mortality, it does damage”, fears Alain Gaudiau, of the fishermen’s association “La Fario” in Til-Chatel, on France Bleu Bourgogne.
In addition to fish, foxes, hedgehogs, birds or squirrels suffer from droughtas France Bleu Paris points out in this article. “This drought will kill and is already killing animals”, warns Marie-Noëlle Bernard, head of the National Tree Monitoring Group in Vincennes.