The dry realities facing Lyon

Elise writes*

The Minister of the Ecological Transition declared that “France is in a state of alert” in relation to the unprecedented drought that began in January 2023. The country has experienced 32 days without rain, and there are no signs of rain on the horizon.

Why is this concerning? Serge Zaka, a professor of agroclimatology notes that there have been dry February’s in the past, but this episode is significant because it is part of a 15-month pattern of deficient precipitation. Surface waters are limited, and groundwater is not recharging. Lyon, for example, has more groundwater discharge than recharge.

What are the reactions?

The government has created a Committee of Drought Anticipation. Those who remember the dry summer of 2022 worry about this coming summer. Lyon faced “red crisis” restrictions in the summer of 2022.

The region around Lyon, 2021 (left) vs 2022 (right)

Farmers are concerned, as they have little water to irrigate their crops. Many have protested, claiming that they should have priority access to water. Lyon’s wine sector is worried about lower production and fewer tourists. Ski stations worry about a lack of snow.

Is this linked to climate change? Yes, because human activity has led to the perturbation of the water cycle, where longer periods of droughts followed by heavy rainfall are expected. In the case of this 32-day drought, an anticyclone that is hovering around Europe has reduced rainfall. By 2050, it is expected that the Rhone and Saone River flowing through Lyon will carry 20-50 percent less water.

What about rain? Even if it started raining heavily, it would not give enough time for the groundwater to recharge before summer. At best, it would increase surface water reserves that could be used in place of groundwater.

So what are the solutions? Experts recommend a complete reform of how we think about water as these unprecedented events become the new normal. In Lyon, a green party succeeded in replacing ‘Eau du Grand Lyon’ (a subsidiary of for-profit Veolia) that was managing water services with public management. The Greens argued that water, as a common good, should be managed by citizens. Other solutions include reforming agriculture to be more resilient, acting on weak linkages in the system, revaluing wastewater and encouraging sobriety on all levels.

* 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.

One thought on “The dry realities facing Lyon”

  1. It seems like the water scarcity facing Lyon is pretty extreme. You mentioned some solutions at the end, but are there any measures in place already? And because it seems like Lyon is so far gone, do you have faith that through these measures, they will be successful? I’m also curious about how the residents of Lyon are using their water. Does their overuse of fresh water play a role in this crisis, or does their minimal use help preserve it? Overall this post was very interesting, great job!

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