Nuclear reactors shut down, herds and fields sacrificed, bottlers under pressure, degraded golf courses and football stadium lawns and a few tourist sites in slow motion. The impact of the drought on the French economy is already visible but it spares most sectors. “We have no return from shutdown factories”, we are assured at the General Directorate of Enterprises (DGE) in Bercy.
This summer, the driest since 1961, with groundwater recharge deemed “worrying” by the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research (BRGM), nevertheless sounds like a wake-up call for companies. “In the next twenty years, rivers will decline by 10% to 20% and groundwater by 20% to 30%, we are heading towards a semi-arid climate and companies will have to learn to take advantage of winter rains warns Franck Galland, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research and consultant to industry.
The industry represents 2.5 billion m3 of water, i.e. 9% of withdrawals in France – a ratio that is slowly falling, it was 12% of withdrawals in 2002. Among the largest industrial consumers is the chemical industry which, for its processes and products, withdraws up to 30 %. Stationery absorbs 10% of the volume and the food industry 8%. But the DGE estimates that in value, the most exposed are fruit and vegetable processors and the food sector, as well as the foundry and steel industry.
To listen to the Ministry of the Economy, industrialists did not wait to hunt down water waste. The most exposed factories are adopting closed circuits and the reuse of treated industrial wastewater. This is all the more true for groups present for export in arid zones. The French Union of Cardboard, Paper and Cellulose Industries argues that the levy by French sites is around 25 liters per kilo of paper, or nearly 50% less than thirty years ago.
The professional union of Brewers of France ensures that after some concerns in June on the quality of malting barley harvests, brewers are supporting the drought and restrictions on use relatively well. “We didn’t wait for the drought to start saving water,” says Edouard Haag, managing director of Meteor, in Bas-Rhin. The company, which makes 75 million euros in turnover for 250 employees, operates 4.5 liters of water per liter of beer produced compared to more than 10 a few years ago. Some additional savings are possible according to the manager, in particular on pasteurization machines and returnable bottle washers.
On the other hand, the agro-food industries would like to reuse recycled wastewater but face the barrage of regulations, the State imposing drinking water in these factories for health reasons.
Franck Galland expects more transparency from companies on their water consumption. In the 2022 survey by the NGO CDP on the actions of European companies, only 33% claim a target for reducing water withdrawals.
“We will not cut the need to create water reservoirs to make reserves”, warns the expert. A particularly urgent problem for EDF, whose cooling of power plants can rely less and less on rivers during droughts. Since July, the Cattenom power station in Lorraine has relied on the reservoir near the Mirgenbach. However, storage infrastructures, whether they concern agriculture or industry, have many detractors and the Sivens syndrome, named after this dam which caused one death in a demonstration, is on everyone’s mind.
The director of treatment infrastructure at Suez, Pierre Pauliac, even makes water an issue of sovereignty. “For France’s attractiveness, it is becoming key to ensure the availability of water resources,” he observes. Food independence goes through water”, insists the expert in particular, and to plead for the development of the reuse of wastewater in favor of agriculture.