‘We are running towards disaster’: Corsica faces ‘drought of the century’

France is experiencing an “exceptional” episode of drought, Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne recalled on Friday, August 5. In announcing the activation of the Inter-Ministerial Crisis Unit, Matignon’s tenant referred to “the historical situation that many territories are going through.” Corsica is particularly concerned: in less than a week, two departments of the island of Beauty went into “heightened drought alert”, the last stage before the introduction of strict lockdown measures with crisis status.

“Given the expected meteorological phenomena, there will be no more water in 25 days,” François Ravier, prefect of Haute-Corsa, even warned in a press release on Wednesday. With one goal: to call for solidarity and responsibility of everyone.

All lights are red

“We should have gone faster, the authorities are late because we are in for the drought of the century,” worries hydrobiologist Antoine Orsini, for whom all lights are red. In terms of temperatures, July was the hottest month on record (+4°C since the first measurements). And again, this is the average monthly value for the entire island. “Other figures are no less alarming, for example, climbing to a height of more than 2000 meters (+5.2 ° C in forty years): there is less snow in winter, therefore, there are fewer fresh water reserves,” the specialist adds. It is precisely in terms of hydro resources that the flow of rivers has decreased by 20-30% over forty years. Results ? “The current situation is what we knew at the end of August, so there is a month delay and it is to be expected that even large cities like Ajaccio or Bastia are experiencing supply problems,” Antoine Orsini warns.

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For at least two decades, villages as high as Porto-Vecchio have been in the habit of being supplied with water, but this time it may apply to the entire island. First of all, water shortages are a serious threat due to heat waves and extreme heat that the authorities seem helpless to face: fires. “We are running towards disaster and, without playing the sinister bird, I think we will have to face giant fires before the end of the summer,” the specialist continues.

On the bad news, this prolonged water shortage, overcrowding and high temperatures could have implications for Corsica’s electricity supply, as 20% of energy comes from water. EDF, which manages four dams at Tolla, Calacucci, Sampolo and Rizzanesi, may decide on summer restrictions. Already last year, but only on August 13, the energy supplier, wanting to anticipate the peak in consumption, asked residents to moderate their consumption from 18:00 to 23:00. Without forgetting that the water from the dams plays another fundamental role, since, like Tollo, the most important one, they are used to supply drinking and agricultural water to the entire region of Ajaccio, passing through the Gravena Valley to Porticcio.

“Do you know Sardinia, its aridity and rocky landscapes? Well, until 2030 we will have the same climate, says Antoine Orsini. “And by 2070 we will have the climate of Tunisia.” Therefore, it is necessary for the hydrobiologist to radically change our practice. Firstly, by completely revising the trading network, the loss ratio of which is close to … 50%. Second, on an individual basis, by reducing our habits of washing cars and boats, watering lawns or other ornamental gardens. Thirdly, by improving the management and filling of swimming pools, the number of which has increased dramatically in recent years. As well as “unknown” or even illegal wells, overgrown in household plots from pumping out groundwater already in an unsatisfactory condition and for which not a single review has been carried out. According to Orsini, it is a matter of integrity and solidarity, in particular between coastal municipalities and those that are at the top.

Storing water differently

Fourthly, by redrawing landscapes: the water supply can only be passed through the construction of large dams. “On an island scale, we can create hilly reservoirs, small structures that will capture part of the sources of our rivers with a length of about 3,000 kilometers,” suggests Antoine Orsini. Some of these reservoirs already exist, such as Teppe Rosse or Peri. We have to multiply them: with 600 million euros, the cost of three large dams, we can finance 300.”

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Finally, farmers who are often singled out will also have to rethink their practices. Here for the implementation of the drip technique; there to give preference to certain cereals – wheat rather than corn – which are less voracious. “We need an agricultural revolution, not a prefectural decree that brings them to their knees,” concludes the hydrobiologist. The water war has just begun.


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