Strict water restrictions have come into force in the Eastern Pyrenees region of France amid a historic drought that has already seen rivers, dams and groundwater depleted to summer levels.
Officials have announced controls and penalties for individuals and businesses that do not follow the measures which are coming into effect just as the tourist season starts.
Fines for individuals will reach up to $1,640 while companies could face penalties of $8,190, public prosecutor Jean-David Cavaille said.
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Restrictions include limitations on agricultural irrigation, watering vegetable gardens and green spaces, and filling or upgrading private swimming pools.
"We are calling for everyone to act responsibly, everyone must participate... Our water tables and dams are at a historically low level," said the departmental governor Rodrigue Furcy.
The area has changed its level of alert from "enhanced" to "crisis" level – the highest it can be in the event of drought – in the area which extends from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast.
The Eastern Pyrenees is the first department in France to go to "crisis" level. Territories located in Bouches-du-Rhone, Gard and Var in France's south had been placed on high alert in recent weeks. In total, nine departments are under an "enhanced alert" warning.
The risks facing the department, according to Furcy, include a potential break in the drinking water supply and large-scale fires, the intensity of which could be increased by the dry soil, heat and wind.
The prefect also pointed to the health risks involved in having such low levels of water. "We are starting to see a development of bacteria in certain rivers, given their low flow," he noted.
Restrictions on water have been in force in the department since April 2022, which has caused many farmers to worry about yielding a full harvest.
The Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau visited the region earlier this month in a bid to reassure farmers, promising compensation for losses suffered due to the drought.
"It's a completely unprecedented situation," said Hichem Tachrift, a French hydrogeologist. "It has rained just under 180 mm since September, when it should have rained more than 450 mm. This translates into historically low levels for the groundwater and extremely low flow rates for rivers."
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