Drought prompts French ban on garden swimming pools

18 05 2023 | 11:42Hugh Schofield

Garden swimming pools are to be banned from sale in a part of southern France over worsening water shortages.

France's Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu said that Pyrénées-Orientales, which borders Spanish Catalonia, will be officially declared at drought "crisis" level from 10 May.

Bans on car-washing, garden-watering and pool-filling will also kick in from the same date.

"We need to get out of our culture of abundance," said Mr Bechu.

Explaining why authorities had decided to take the step to ban sales of garden pools, he said: "It is to prevent people from being tempted to do what they are in fact not allowed to do anyway - which is to fill them.

"The Pyrénées-Orientales is a department that has not known a full day of rain in over a year. When you are in a crisis like this, it is really quite simple: it's drinking water and nothing else.

"Climate change is here and now. We need to get out of our culture of abundance. We need to show far more restraint in how we use the resources we have."

Warning lights have been flashing in France after a dry winter aggravated the already depleted water tables inherited from 2022.

A wet March has provided a welcome partial relief to farmers by moistening soil ahead of planting but underground water levels remain dangerously low, especially around the Mediterranean. Only Brittany and Aquitaine in the south-west are in a relatively safe position.

The Pyrénées-Orientales will become the fourth district where the drought is officially at "crisis" level. More than 40 others - amounting to nearly half the country - are already at "alert" or "vigilance" levels, presaging even worse shortages than last year.

In parts of the district, aquifer levels are so low that experts fear saline seepage from the sea, which would make tap water undrinkable. Low aquifer levels also mean a higher concentration of pollutants, which could likewise severely damage water quality.

President Emmanuel Macron last month announced a nationwide water programme, with promises of investment to curb leaks and increase recycling. He also outlined a "progressive water tariff" under which consumption above a certain quantity - for example, for swimming pools - would be charged at higher rates.

Some 2,000 villages and towns are at risk of losing their water supply this year, according to Mr Béchu. Last year, 1,000 municipalities had serious problems, of which some 400 had to be provided with bottles or mobile cisterns.

"The war over water triggered by the fall in stocks is a genuine threat to our national cohesion," the minister said.






cover photo:GETTY IMAGES