This is a first in the North : the Yser basin, in Flanders, has been in a state of drought crisis, the highest possible level, since Friday July 29, while all of France is now hit by drought. In the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, the Scarpe basin is on heightened alert, those of Aa, Audomarois, Boulonnais and Sambre are on alert.
It is in Flanders that the situation is most worrying, with bans in 37 municipalities in the Yser basin : industrialists do not have the right to use water except for safety or health reasons. Individuals do not have the right to wash their vehicles outside car washes, to water green spaces, to fill bodies of water. For farmers, abstraction from watercourses and irrigation are also prohibited, except for crops that particularly need water, such as cabbage and beans, for which irrigation is controlled.
Every day, agents from the French Office for Biodiversity patrol the Yser basin to check that these rules are respected. This Tuesday, August 2, they leave looking for irrigation devices in the field and pumps in the river, near Herzeele. Direction a body of water for duck hunting, where the team had discovered an illegal harvest a week earlier.
Once there, the pipes disappeared, the prevention seems to have paid off. “If that had not been the case, we would have drawn up a report and initiated legal proceedings.“, explains Bertrand Warnez, departmental head of the French Office for Biodiversity. The owner could have paid fine of up to 1500 euros.
In Flanders so far, no fine has been drawn up: “It’s rather reassuring, people understand that you have to make an effort“, smiles Baptiste Depriester, one of the team members. In Hauts-de-France since mid-July, 150 checks took place, they only led to 3 legal proceedings and 5 regulatory reminders according to the prefecture. “It is always difficult to share the resource, it requires adaptation, and there must be a limitation to preserve the common good“, justifies Bertrand Warnez.
An unprecedented level of crisis
A necessary effort, because below, the river has never flowed so weakly. The environmental police walk in the middle of the bed, while the water should normally reach at least their knees. “It lacks at least 60 cm, it shows the dramatic dimension of drought“, emphasizes Bertrand Warnez.
Soon the stream may even stop by place : “If we continue like this, in 15 days, there will only be puddles of water“, he laments. This could be dramatic on biodiversity: “We have phenomena of warming of the water, concentrations of pollutants which increase, and a reduction in natural habitats… The fish no longer have oxygen. The more regular the episodes, the more the ecosystems are endangered.”
The fish have no more oxygen
And since 2017, the episodes follow one another and become more and more precocious in the North. “Not only does the drought period arrive very early in the season, but we are at a level never reached at the worst time of traditional drought, i.e. towards the end of August.“, warns Bertrand Warnez, who sees in it the entry into “a very disturbing new cycle“.