Macron to introduce water levy as France suffers worst drought in years
Emmanuel Macron has pledged to tax water usage in France to tackle a major drought, with the move coming amid a public uprising over pension reforms and the cost of living.
The move was announced in a 53-point plan after last summer’s devastating heatwave and record low rainfall this winter. On March 1, groundwater levels in France were 80 per cent lower than average.
Climate change had turned water into a “strategic issue for the nation”, said Mr Macron, who warned that the climate crisis would deprive France of 30-40 per cent of its available water by 2050.
Speaking in the Alpine town of Savines-le-Lac, on the shores of western Europe’s largest fresh water reservoir, the president unveiled the new water-saving measures as he sought to dismiss political and social unrest.
“There is contestation over a reform, but it doesn’t mean everything else should grind to a halt. We need to continue working,” he said as critics accused him of timing the water plan to divert attention from the anger. Around 200 protesters turned out, and there were two arrests.
The government response to increased water scarcity has sometimes been a flashpoint for environmental activists.
Two men are in a coma after violent clashes between protesters and police during an unauthorised demonstration against the construction of a giant water reservoir for farm irrigation in Sainte-Soline, western France, on Saturday.
Campaigners were trying to stop the construction of the pools to irrigate crops, which they say will distort access to water amid drought conditions.
On Thursday, Mr Macron said: “Nothing justifies violence in a democratic society”, claiming that, at the reservoir protest, “thousands of people were there simply to wage a war, and that’s unacceptable”.
The president said France would impose “gradual and responsible tariffs” on water usage that would apply “to everyone”.
“The first cubic metres will be billed at a modest rate, close to cost price” but “beyond a certain level, the price per cubic metre will be higher”, he said, without providing further details.
But he denied that this would lead to higher water bills for the average French person, saying rates in France were at “middling” levels in Europe.
Mr Macron said he wanted 10 per cent of all water in France to be reused by 2030, up from the current one per cent, adding: “We want to reuse 300 million cubic metres – that is three Olympic swimming pools or 3,500 bottles of water – per French person per year.”
He pledged €180 million to plug water leaks, saying these were responsible the loss of one in every five litres of water in France. Much of the funds would go towards 170 problem areas where water loss from leaks was at 50 per cent.
Nuclear power plants will have to adapt to reduce their reliance on water to cool down, he said. Some 58 per cent of the water used in France goes to farming, 26 per cent to drinkable water, 12 per cent to cool down nuclear reactors and four per cent to industrial uses.
Despite their huge water consumption, French farmers would not be asked to reduce their overall water consumption but would need to share the volumes out over larger areas in future “due to climate change”, said Marc Fesneau, the agriculture minister.
The proposals will also create a new app to inform residents if water usage in their area has reached a critical level, on the model of the Ecowatt app for electricity use that was launched to encourage savings this winter.