First, let me wish you a joyeux Quatorze Juillet. Today is la Fête Nationale in France and one of the most important holidays in the calendar. Today is sunny and hot. In previous years, we have been known to light a fire on 14th July. This year, the firework display in our local village seems to be going ahead, despite the sécheresse (drought). It has been cancelled before, notably in 2003, owing to the fire hazard.
We arrived home the other day to find the message light on the phone flashing. This is unusual enough in itself, since the only calls we seem to receive these days are from cold callers (we don’t answer if we don’t recognise the number).
The message was a recorded announcement from the mairie, alerting us to the water restrictions now in force. No washing cars, watering lawns or open spaces or filling empty swimming pools (although we understand that topping up is allowed).
Currently, 51 départements in France, including ours, are under drought alert with water restrictions. A government website, Propluvia, charts the levels of drought for each département. Ours, 82, is shown as red, crisis level. If you click on your département on the website, it brings up a more detailed map showing the drought levels for specific areas. This shows that our immediate area is on yellow alert, but the areas east of Montauban and in the north of the département bordering the Lot are on red alert.
We have had little appreciable rain here for over a month. The total for July so far is 8 mm, which is negligible, especially considering how hot it’s been. The thunderstorms have avoided us so far. Also, the winter was nothing like as wet as the previous winter, when we thought it would never stop raining. And we had some warm, dry spells in February and March.
The chart below shows that every month up to the end of June had less than average rainfall, except for January, and that was only slightly over average. The total rainfall to the end of June was only 272 mm, against an average for that period over 21 years of 471 mm.
Our garden is showing signs of distress. The lawn crackles when you walk across it. Some of the plants and shrubs are definitely unhappy, even those that are supposed to tolerate drought. Even the weeds, which were thriving this year, are less than luxuriant.
Brush fires, although thankfully not common around here, are becoming more so as the vegetation turns tinder dry. It doesn’t take long for a lighted cigarette tossed carelessly from a car window to ignite a blaze.
In late summer last year, which was very dry, we smelled burning outside and thought someone was having a bonfire. Private individuals are no longer allowed those. In fact, it was a brush fire about 10 km away, but the wind had wafted the smoke in our direction.
Such fires are, of course, much more common in Provence and on Corsica, where it’s generally hotter and drier than here. For some time, house owners in those areas have been obliged to cut back the undergrowth within a certain radius of their property to create a firebreak. That responsibility is now spreading to other parts of the country, although I believe it isn’t universal. In fact, I must check to see if it’s a requirement of our commune, although I think we comply anyway.
I don’t think summer drought is anything new here, although perhaps it has become more intense. The problem is that we are far more profligate with water than our ancestors. We are told that, before the well was sunk on our property, the people had to seek water at the nearest stream: a round trip of about 2.5 km. No wonder the éviers (stone sinks) in our house are so shallow. They didn’t want to waste a drop. Their jaws would plummet if they saw how easy it is to turn on the tap today. Even so, mains water was not brought to our hamlet until the 1960s. Some villages in the area had to wait until the 1970s.
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