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France: worst drought in 30 years

by Plutonium Page Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:49:14 PM EST

Promoted by Sirocco.

Back in 2003, Europe was hit by a serious heat wave, along with a terrible drought.  19,000 people died, and the drought created a crisis for farmers' livestock and crops.

A year later, BBC News online reported that scientists are predicting "brutal" and increasingly worse heat waves as time goes on.

It looks like things might be bad again this year:

France is facing its worst water shortage since 1976, with rivers drying up, reservoirs struggling to meet demand, and rationing measures introduced in the most severely hit areas.

In some regions water levels are at their lowest for 54 years after nine months of exceptionally dry weather and up to 60% less rainfall than normal.

Farmers say their crops are at risk. Restrictions on irrigating fields, introduced in 50 of the country's 95 departments, are already hitting cereal production, according to agriculture specialists.

Teams of "water police" have been patrolling farming areas to enforce the restrictions on irrigation and handing out fines of up to €1,500 (£1,000). But faced with losing their crops many farmers are prepared to risk being caught.

I'm from New Mexico, and we're used to "water police";  I've never heard of this happening in Europe, but I'll leave it to Jérôme and other Europeans to answer that question.


The article mentions that another hot summer is in store, which would compound the water crisis in France.

The map below shows average rainfall in Europe from 1 April to 30 June 2003 (click to enlarge).

I assume the data for this year will be available sometime this summer.

The point is that the heat wave is repeating itself;  whether or not this is a trend remains to be seen, but the Science article seems to predict such a trend.

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I hardly feel qualified to say much about the weather in France.
by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:01:34 PM EST
While they already have some things in common, the heatwave and the drought are fairly distinct problem, whic do not necessarily arise at the same time.

From what I have seen, the current drought is limited mostly to some Western regions (Poitou and thereabouts), with the other regions still mostly okay.

There is a very simple solution to droughts - make farmers pay the water - and for the water pollution they cause. That's the real scandal.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:34:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't realize I was being that stupid.  D'oh.
by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:38:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
don't worry - both issues are important and relevant!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 07:30:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite right. 1976 was such a memorable drought because 1975 was dry before it. The summer was long and hot, but not as hot as 2003.

(I can remember working in the fields in 1976 and doing Indian Rain Dances in hopes... Hey, soon they'll be able to hire me to play the old-timer in the Westerns :-) )

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 08:19:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The drought has also impacted France's nuclear power nexus...  eerily fulfilling amateur crystal-balling by yrs truly months ago on MoA when I predicted that nuke power was more vulnerable to climate change than, say, wind power, because of its Achilles' heel:  requirement for ample continuous supply of cooling water, in other words using natural water sources as a heat sink and assuming that this heat sink is faiap infinite or at least reliable.

in face of climate destabilisation, no water source can be considered reliable.  but I suspect that with a more energised global climate system we may expect higher, not lower wind velocities on average and thus a better future for wind power.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:09:44 PM EST
Lack of water would reduce steam generation of electricity, whether the heat to make the steam came from nuclear or from coal combustion.

However, some nuclear plants use seawater, desalinated. A plant in Arizona uses recycled sewer water from Phoenix. I don't foresee droughts shutting down nuclear power.

And I don't see wind power replacing baseload sources of electricty:  nuclear and coal combustion.  Hydroelectric power, the third baseload source, has already been reduced by drought in the US.  It has been supplying just a small percentage of the total electricity in any case.

Wind farms require thousands of cubic yards of concrete.  Generally concrete is made using coal combustion.

Of course I am in favor of wind and solar power as well as nuclear--we need everything.  But I fervently hope we can phase out fossil fuel combustion as rapidly as possible.  It is probably a futile hope, since fossil fuel use is steadily climbing, surpassing all other energy resources.

by Plan9 on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:27:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem in 2003 was with water as a coolant - EDF is supposed to send back the water back to the rivers at a temperature below a certain level. The problem was that the river itself was already above that. So they fudged and said that EDF should not send back water more than 2°C above what it was when they took it... But the absolute levels of temperature were getting pretty high altogether.

The issu was not one of safety of the plants, but one of impact on an already troubled natural river environment.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:31:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the clarification, Jérôme.  Nuclear plants in the hot American South that use water in dams for cooling of the water in the secondary system see a temperature rise in the summer, but it is within the normal range for the local ecosystems.  These plants actually get awards from environmental groups for their good stewardship.

Since the temperature in formerly cool Europe already seems to be rising faster than ecosystems may be able to adapt, the additional few degrees from nuclear plants could indeed be problematic.

by Plan9 on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 12:35:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind farms require thousands of cubic yards of concrete.

the only ones I've seen had the towers mounted on fairly modest plinths.  got anything quantitative on that?  as in height of tower vs cu yd of concrete needed to build footing/plinth?

seems to me a nuke plant also requires rather a lot of concrete, not only for its slab footprint and reinforced foundations and whatnot but for those big containment vessels and the cooling ponds etc....  I don't know the actual cubic yardage though.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 08:22:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The energy input into the entire production of a wind turbine (including the production of steel for the tower) is brought back in a few months. So this is not significant.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 06:42:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right.  My point was that no energy source is risk free, and that even wind power is going to contribute greenhouse gases due to the manufacture of the equipment.  And that of course is also true of nuclear plants and coal plants.

I would rather shut down coal-fired plants, though, which are the greatest contributors to global warming, and hope that eventually cement plants and steel plants could use cleaner coal technology or even nuclear.

by Plan9 on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 12:38:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I don't see wind power replacing baseload sources of electricty:  nuclear and coal combustion.  Hydroelectric power, the third baseload source, has already been reduced by drought in the US.

A recent study by Elkraft concluded that up to 50% of wind power can be integrated into the system both technologically and economically. I emphasize, Elkraft is neither a green advocacy group, nor wind industry lobbyists, not even independent scientists with no money to risk themselves - it is one of the two electricity system operators in Denmark.

This depends heavily on using the other baseload sources in a more variable way, in the case of Scandinavia, primarily hydroelectric. The added benefit is that thus 'downgrading' hydroelectric can spare water.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 13th, 2005 at 07:11:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The situation in 2003 was due to some poor planning - they use the summer, a low power consumption period in Europe (no AC), to do the big maintenance on a good portion of the nuclear plants. As it were, they put most of the seaside plants (that do not have to worry about river temperature) out that year...

So they learnt something and adapted the maintenance planning. This does not alter the fact that France is too dependent on a single technology and thus to some form of systemic risk. Of course, as a number of countries count on France to build their own nuclear plants (i.e. the plants are built in France and export power to them - cf Italy, Germany, Spain and UK for examples), the whole continent is in the same boat.

In the meantime, it's going to be ironic to see the electricity users of the whole continent fill up the coffers of the French State thanks to the windfall profits of EDF, selling at (highish) market prices (around 45 EUR/MWh now) and producing at its low, low marginal cost 15 EUR/MWh). Note: French exports - 100 TWh/y or so, IIRC - 5 billion euros per year and growing...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:27:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Up here in Norway it hit so fast myself and others I know got sick. More or less over night we went from almost below 0 celcius at night and having to keep the heating on in June to tropical heat and humidity.

I was sitting here reading T. S. Eliot, sweating like a roast pig, trying to hang on to my sanity and keep from screaming, "I farking hate saunas!" and it hit me; I'm turning into Colonel Kurtz! I've got to get me some mudpainted mercenaries and raid a store that sells air-conditioning!

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Alexander G Rubio (alexander.rubio@gmail.com) on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 06:24:46 PM EST
It would be interesting to hear some specific daytime high and nighttime low temperature for your part of the world.

Here in the western U.S. it's getting up over 90 degrees F (33 C) in the day and down to below 55 degrees F (12 C) at night. What that means is that you open all the windows at night to get things cool, then close them early in the morning.

by asdf on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 07:00:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It did involve a lot of changing of clothes though. It would be hot during the day and then I was wearing a sweater by night. The strangest change is when I would take the Bart from Fremont to San Francisco. Such a short trip but the temperature difference was dramatic.
by Hausfrau on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 02:09:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here in the western U.S. it's getting up over 90 degrees F (33 C) in the day and down to below 55 degrees F (12 C) at night.

Here under the brilliant Colorado sun that 90 degrees will take off a layer of skin in short order. And this weather lasts for a month or two, but I hope those of you not used to the heat in Europe don't have an extended spell.

BTW- all this talk of sun and heat leaves me wondering what would happen if we took the USD 5 billion we'll spend in Iraq this week and put solar panels on everyone's roof?

Are you kind?

by US Blues on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 11:42:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, my bedroom thermometer is reading 27.5C, which is way too hot. No AC, no fans.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 12:05:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was hot as hell in Munich as well. We kept the blinds down and curtains closed to keep our flat dark and cool. We had fans going non-stop and my kids spent a lot of time in the bathtub trying to cool down. Finally, we saw some rain clouds and it rained at 11:00 at night. My husband opened up all of the windows to let the cool air flow through the flat.

The worse thing about that summer was that the weather wasn't hot for just a day or too, it was over 40 for about a week and the temperatures were at least over 35 for about two weeks.

by Hausfrau on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 02:05:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was visiting home in Geneva just recently it was ridiculously hot - roughly 35 for two days. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to enjoy serious heat without air conditioning. On the other hand no signs of drought, some rain while I was there. And when I spoke with my parents a few days ago they were complaining that it was rainy and cold.  So far nothing like the craziness of 2003. But looking at the glaciers is scary. These days I'm only home in the summer about every other year and each time they have visibly retreated.
by MarekNYC on Mon Jul 11th, 2005 at 10:58:57 PM EST
... I don't know much about that.

But whenever I enter a forum with a subject like this, I mentally brace myself and wait for the first post that starts raving about the changing climate. (I know a little something about that, so I feel I can interact on that subject.)

I must say that I still was a little surprised to not find one in this thread. Once again, I must change my view of what an enormous clever, well informed group of people are debating on this forum. I now rate it even higher.

Just wanted to say that. Please carry on.

by Nomad on Tue Jul 12th, 2005 at 09:18:38 AM EST


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