A threatened groundwater source

Lenaide writes*

Imagine living in a city located on top of the largest groundwater source and longest river in France, but to also have both of these sources be under the threat of scarcity. That it is the current state of Beaugency, France.

Beaugency has two water sources: the Beauce aquifer, which I will focus on in this blogpost and the Loire river, which I will only briefly mention at the end.

The aquifer, covering about 10 000 km2, is referred to as the water tower of the department, as it provides water to about 1 million inhabitants. Since the beginning of the 1990s, special attention for its care and sustainable use has been given to it as there was a major drought, forcing regulations to be put in place. However, these did not last, and thirty years later here we are with falling water levels and deteriorating water quality .

The aquifer provides drinking water for citizens and water for irrigation (mostly) and industrial uses. (For more info on the extraction, specific uses, and historical regulations imposed check out this website.)

Climate and agriculture threaten the Beauce groundwater.

The region Centre-Val de Loire (where Beaugency is located) is known for its lack of rain. Since the aquifer recharges with winter rains, a lack of rain impedes replenishment. Strong winds also reduce water supply by increasing evapotranspiration (see this PDF for more details).

Climate change changed rainfall occurrence and intensity. Altered and unreliable rainfall makes replenishment inconsistent. Average temperatures have also increased, and in the summer, there have been droughts leading to strict regulations.

The second problem I will mention is linked with agriculture. There has been an increase in population, meaning that more production is needed to meet the demand and needs of the people. Because of this increase in demand on irrigation systems, more water is used, adding to pressures from increased domestic use from the aquifer.

Additionally, there is a major problem regarding pesticide/herbicide aquatic pollution. In 2015, over half of all the groundwater sources tested in the region surrounding Beaugency had traces of either pesticides or herbicides. Some levels are dangerous, especially from forbidden herbicides (see this PDF for more info).

Finally, the river Loire is also under stress due to the same reasons affecting  the aquifer. Climate change causing extreme heat events and reducing the amount of rain which leads to a reduction of the flow which can lead to future shortages, and reduces the efficiency of the nuclear powerplant relying on the river flow. Agricultural runoff laden with more pesticides and herbicides also pollutes the river, leading to health concerns.

Bottom line: The increased intensity of climate change impacts, ever-growing population demanding more food, and poor management of water resources puts both the aquifer and the river under major threat. Action is needed to protect them.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

5 thoughts on “A threatened groundwater source”

  1. This is really interesting! I have spent a lot of time in the city of Tours which is about an hour south, and I am shocked that I have never heard this talked about. What you wrote about agricultural runoff I found particularly fascinating, and I am really looking forward to reading more about your city 🙂

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. thank you 🙂 Yes it is not mentioned that the aquifer is being depleted, or that farmers are polluting it (because it is underground and almost impossible for citizens to know) so it is not ‘advertized’. However, the citizens do realize that the river is drying up as the years go by (well the ones who care a tiny bit about the environment), but because it is not yet a critical or very concerning level, there is also not much/nothing being done, and even less told to the public…

  2. I think your post is a great example to show how climate change will not only worsen scarcity in places where scarcity already exists, but also drag even more areas into water scarcity that, on the surface, do not seem like the typical place to find it! It seems like climate change and population growth make for a powerful combo in quickly depleting water sources around the world. You mention that altered and unreliable rainfall makes replenishment inconsistent, so I wonder if an option here could be technology – in terms of finding better ways to capture any rain that does fall (like rainwater harvesting), – but if rain really is that infrequent then it seems it will be very difficult to manage the scarcity situation. (Of course you could decreasing appropriation for industrial use but with the growing population you mention, I imagine this suggestion would lead to a lot of resistance!).

    1. thank you for this comment! I guess technology capturing rainwater could be a way to replenish (or at least attempt to) the aquifer, which if it works would be great on the short term, but this does not solve the initial problem of overexploiting the source itself, and because of the reducing rainfall, we cannot rely on it to (naturally and artificially) replenish it. The change has to come from the users, and alternatives need to be found in order to reduce the amount of water needed for agricultural practices, which seems to be complicated, especially because they are not very informed…

  3. Great post, I think this summarizes quite nicely two of the major challenges we are facing: Climate Change and Population Growth! Especially, the irony we are facing when it comes to water and food resources: we are running out of resources but continue to grow exponentially, increasing the problem even more.

    Quite scary that the largest groundwater resources in France seems to run out! And it seems like France faces quite some challenges when it comes to water scarcity. Particularly because the problem is not only the combination of climate change and population growth but also water pollution seems to be an issue. Moreover, it was interesting that trace amounts of forbidden herbicides were found, which must impose already quite some health issues and possible impacts on the aquatic species and biodiversity. Besides, I was wondering if due to the high pesticide/herbicide levels eutrophication already occurred in some parts of the river?

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