SAVINES-LE-LAC, France (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron launched a broad plan on Thursday to ensure that France has sovereignty over its water resources, growing increasingly scarce because of climate change, challenging farmers, drying lakes and leaving some households without water running from their faucets.
The water problem is urgent, he said, affirming that climate change will deprive France of 30% to 40% of available water by 2050.
Macron's trip to a town in the Hautes-Alpes region of southwest France that that has suffered water shortages gave him a chance to change the topic and briefly escape the daily criticism and protests triggered by his decision to revise the pension system and increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. It also was an opportunity to address climate change, a topic that concerns youth. Students and other youth have been increasingly present at protest marches, but have enlarged their demands to address an array of topics like ecology and climate change.
The speech notably comes after a weekend of pitched battles in a field in rural France between security forces and militant ecologists that shocked the nation, turning the pastoral countryside into what looked like a war zone. The militants are opposed to a water basin being created to help farmers irrigate their fields.
Acknowledging the social unrest, Macron said before his speech that "this doesn't mean that everything must stop ... So I am carrying on with my job."
He laid out 50 measures to put France on track this summer and beyond, stressing that water is precious and France has thus far failed to strategize effectively to save water. To ensure citizens use it sparingly, he announced gradual price increases for use of water for "comfort."
Major sectors, from nuclear to energy and industry, must be adapted to improve water management.
France suffered from a major drought in 2022 and winter drought in February, an alert for the years ahead.
In France today, less than 1% of used water is treated for reuse, Macron said.
"That's 10, 15, 20 times less than certain" other countries. He said that 10% of water would be recycled and reused by 2030.
Macron's choice of a venue to address his water plan, in Savines-Le-Lac — in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur — is on the edge of Serre-Poncon lake, a man-made water reservoir and one of Western Europe's largest. With rising temperatures, parts of it are currently bone-dry.