Farming and tourism under threat as winter drought dries up France’s Lake Montbel

A general view of the partially dry Lake Montpellier is seen in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains as France faces a record dry winter that threatens another summer of drought and water restrictions, March 13, 2023. — Reuters

Paris: Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, Lake Montpellier is famous in the southwest. France For its turquoise waters, large size and thriving aquatic life.

But as spring approaches, the postcard landscape has largely turned into a muddy wasteland, with boats from the local sailing club stranded on its banks, as France’s driest in 64 years. The bitter winter prevented the lake from filling up.

FranceLike much of Europe, it is in the grip of a winter drought that is raising concerns about water security across the continent.

For the month of February, the Eriege region, where Lake Montable is located, suffers from a rainfall deficit of 80%.

Xavier Roja, who manages the lake’s dam, said, “We’re currently only … at about 25 percent of the maximum fill rate. At this time of year, we’d normally be close to 60 percent fill rate.” are.”

Lake Montable is an artificial lake, spread over 570 hectares and created in 1985 by flooding what used to be a forested area.

gave LakeAbout halfway between Toulouse and Perpignan, it was originally built to irrigate the area’s crops, but over time campsites and hiking trails have sprung up around its edges, which It attracts thousands of tourists every year.

As he walks the dried-up lake bed, sailing instructor Claude Carriere checks the sailboats stranded just meters from the water.

His club has had to cancel several competitions since January, as the lake’s shrinking surface is no longer suitable for boating.

“We have a wonderful body of water when it’s full. It’s wonderful. It’s a haven of peace, fun and relaxation,” Carrey, who has volunteered at the club since the early 2000s, told Reuters. is the place of.”

“It’s sad when you see it like that. It looks more like a muddy desert than anything else. And it kind of breaks our hearts.”

The club’s management is already trying to diversify its activities so that it can continue to operate during future droughts.

‘We have to adapt’

Downstream, farmers are worried ahead of spring and summer.

“Lake Montable, in fact, is a guarantee of income… If tomorrow we had to work without water, many, many of our farms would collapse and disappear,” said Christophe Muscrenck, head of the Regional Farmers’ Irrigation Association. will go.” .

Mascarenc uses water from the nearby Erige river and not from Lake Montbel. Still, he plans to cut corn production by 50% to 60% this year to save water.

Others in the region have turned to low-water crops, such as sorghum, sunflowers and even mandarins.

Officials are also working on a plan to divert the nearby Tuare River to help fill the lake, although the plan has faced opposition from environmental groups.

As the effects of global warming intensify in the coming decades, hotter and drier seasons will become more common, said Franck Solakrup, head of the public upstream Garonne River interdepartmental delegation.

“Montable Dam is representative of this (water) shortage situation and the level of filling, which is not optimal at the beginning of the season,” he said.

“In 2022, we really had conditions that would be normal in 2050, because of climate change … that’s something we’re going to have to get used to and therefore adapt to.”

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