1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

France: Macron touts water plan in Alps amid pension unrest

March 30, 2023

President Emmanuel Macron's first high-profile trip in weeks was to a picturesque Alpine village — far from Paris' currently restless streets. He said he his government must "continue working," despite the protests.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists in Savines-Le-Lac, with snow-capped mountains visible in the background
Macron said that 10% of water would be recycled and reused by 2030Image: Sebastien Nogier/AP/picture alliance

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday laid out plans to tackle water crisis, briefly escaping daily protests against pension reform plans that have roiled the country for weeks.

This was Macron's first major policy announcement and public outing after anger over his decision to force through a controversial pension reform plan saw violent clashes between protesters and police last week.

Macron said he went ahead with the trip becuase the largely urban protests should not derail his efforts to govern more generallly. 

"There are protests, but it does not mean everything must stop," Macron said. "We need to continue working." 

However, Macron was greeted in the Alpine village of Savines-Le-Lac by groups of protesters with placards like "Macron resign!" and "Take your pension, not ours." 

Macron delivered the plan in Savines-Le-Lac in the Hautes Alpes region of southeast France that has suffered acute water shortages. The town is also located on the edge of Serre-Poncon lake, one of Western Europe's largest man-made reservoirs.

How is France going to save water?

The water-saving plan includes an array of measures, from fixing leaking pipes to adapting the way farmers and the nuclear power industry use water, and to make water more expensive for people who are using more than they should need on a daily basis. 

"In the face of change, there are necessary constraints, we must explain them, share them and make everyone aware of their responsibilites," Macron said. 

Like much of Europe, France suffered a severe drought last summer amid hot and dry weather. It deprived more than 100 municipalities of water to a point they were not able to deliver drinking water to the tap. 

The water shortages also exacerbated maintenance-related problems with the country's network of nuclear power plants, with some sites having insufficient available water for cooling, all around the height of rising energy prices linked in large part to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Rationing water in France

No respite in unusually dry winter

France has since recorded its driest winter in decades as well. Macron had earlier this month promised his government would devise an urgent "water plan " in March given the winter drought conditions.

"We have decided to launch 1,000 projects in five years to recycle and reuse water," he said. "We want to reuse 300 million cubic meters, or… 3,500 bottles of water per French person per year." France currently reuses less than 1% of its water.

Climate change would deprive France of 30% to 40% of available water by 2050, Macron said. He laid out around 50 measures to save water, including announcing a gradual price increase for use of water for "comfort" so citizens use water judiciously.

Major sectors, from nuclear energy to industry, would have to adapt and improve water management.  

France recorded 32 days without rain this winter —  the longest such winter drought since record-keeping began in 1959. 

Snow levels in the French Alps, the Pyrenees and other French mountain ranges were also much lower than usual for this time of the year, according to the national weather service.

Weather watchers were worried about depleted water supplies since snowmelt is crucial to filling rivers and reservoirs. 

France invests in offshore wind energy

rm/msh (Reuters, AP)