[1/5] People walk near a bank of the Loire River as historical drought hits France, in Loireauxence, France, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
[2/5] A view shows a branch of the Loire River as a historical drought hits France in Loireauxence, France, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
[3/5] An aerial view shows the Loire River as historical drought hits France, in Ingrandes-Le Fresnes sur Loire, France, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
[4/5] An aerial view shows a branch of the Loire River as historical drought hits France, in Loireauxence, France, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
[5/5] An aerial view shows a branch of the Loire River as historical drought hits France, in Loireauxence, France, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Reuters, LOIREAUXENCE, France, August 17 – Even its flat-bottom tourist barges this year can barely traverse waters greatly reduced by a record drought. France’s river Loire, renowned for the hundreds of castles gracing its shores, is a shallow river at the best of times.
Even at a distance of about 100 kilometers from the point where the Loire empties into the Atlantic Ocean, sand banks now reach as far as the eye can see, large islands are connected to the shore, and in some areas, one can virtually walk from one side of the river to the other.
Although the Loire valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for majestic chateaux like Chambord, Chenonceau, and Azay-le-Rideau, has traditionally had low water levels, this year’s drought should be considered a wake-up call, according to Eric Sauquet.
“The Loire’s tributaries are completely dried up. It is unprecedented,” said Sauquet, head of hydrology at France’s National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE).
“We have to worry about the Loire,” he added.
The low water levels are catastrophic for fish living in rivers. As the shallow water heats up and loses oxygen, the animals become easier food for herons and other predators.
“Fish need water to live, cool water. When water levels get this low, their environment shrinks, and they get trapped in puddles,” Sauquet said.
About 40 cubic meters per second, or less than a twentieth of normal annual levels, are being carried by rivers. It would be even lower if officials did not release water from the Villerest and Naussac dams, constructed in the 1980s partly to ensure the cooling water supply for the four nuclear plants erected alongside the river.
With a combined capacity of 11.6 gigawatts, the four plants in Belleville, Chinon, Dampierre, and Saint-Laurent supply almost a fifth of all the energy produced in France.
Closing one or more Loire plants could increase energy prices across Europe. Several EDF plants are already inoperable due to technical issues, and others are running at reduced capacity due to low river waters.
The massive uncovered sand banks of the river astounded and alarmed both visitors and locals.
“Even in 1976, the water was never as low as this,” said longtime riverside resident Brigitte Gabory Defois.
Nevertheless, days after large-scale wildfires ravaged France, torrential rain flooded portions of the Paris metro, and storms pounded southern France. In contrast, in some southern towns, water had to be brought in by trucks because natural springs had dried up.
“Climate change is underway; it’s undeniable. All users will have to re-think their behavior concerning water resources,” Sauquet said.
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