French protesters act as golf courses stay green as ‘flower towns’ fade

Environmental activists in France are filling golf course holes with cement to protest against exceptions to the water ban.

Amid one of the worst droughts on record, water bans are hitting French citizens and businesses hard – yet golf courses have been given an eyebrow-raising pass.

While the owners of the most affected areas are prohibited from watering their gardens, Golf course owners can still water their greens.

Why are activists targeting golf courses in France?

Climate activists affiliated with Extinction Rebellion are targeting golf courses in the south of France, filling holes with concrete in protest against exemptions from water restrictions.

Due to the ongoing drought, France has told residents to avoid non-essential water use such as washing cars and watering gardens. However, activists complain that golf courses are allowed to continue watering greens.

Extinction Rebellion Toulouse posted a photo on Twitter apparently showing a golf hole filled with cement and a sign reading “This hole drinks 277,000 liters. You drink that much? #Stop Golf”.

The protest action took place at the Vieille-Toulouse club and also on the course of the Garonne des Sept Deniers.

A petition to remove the exemption enjoyed by French golf courses in times of drought proclaims “Economic madness takes precedence over ecological reason”.

Defending their exemption from water restrictions, Gerard Rougier of the French Golf Federation told the France Info news site: “A golf course without a green is like an ice rink without ice.”

How does France deal with water shortages?

France was one of the hardest hit by hot and dry conditions across Europe with firefighters fight a “monster” fire in the forests of the southwest.

After having lived water shortages in the second driest month on record in the country, the prefects (regional representatives) limit water consumption according to the level of severity.

Almost all of the country’s 96 departments have imposed the water use restrictions, also a recording.

The French Ministry of Ecology has defined four levels of Drought warnings ranging from “vigilance” to “crisis”.

In the “crisis” alert level, water is reserved for health, civil security, drinking water and sanitation uses.

During the drought, more than 100 French cities were left without potable water in their pipes, hence the need for tanker trucks. The situation was described as “historic” by the Minister of Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu.

Why are golf courses exempt from water bans?

Golf course owners are permitted to the water their teeing grounds and greens, even in “crisis” areas.

The only constraints are that watering must be carried out during night hours, and “reduced to the bare minimum” by no more than 30% of the usual volume.

Course owners benefit from an agreement signed between the French Golf Federation and the Ministry of Ecological Transition in 2019. In return, they undertake to reduce their water consumption.

On average, it takes 25,000 cubic meters of water per year to maintain the lawns of the more than 700 courses of France.

Some officials resent the exceptions. Éric Piolle, the mayor of the city of Grenoble in southeastern France, tweeted that “the practices of the richest” continue to be “protected”.

Water bans are enforced at the discretion of regional officials and so far only Ille-et-Villaine in western France has banned the watering of golf courses.

While French golf courses remain green, the “flowery towns” fade

Anxious to preserve its award-winning flowerbeds, the city of Colmar, close to the border with Germanyrequested its own exemption.

The request was refused by some residents. “Flowers and grass are not eaten. The city of Colmar is asking for a watering exemption to keep its status as a “flowery city” when farmers and individuals are not allowed to water wheat or vegetables gardens…it’s just indecent,” one user tweeted.

Christian Meistermann, deputy mayor in charge of roads, explains and justifies the approach: “The environmental and tourist capital of Colmar is also these flowers, we cannot let this capital die.

On the Côte d’Azur too, people are concerned about the impact of the water ban on inheritance. The town hall of Menton fears for its famous lemons.

“The complete cut off of watering will make an exceptional heritage disappear and will have a considerable cost for the community”, warns the municipality in its letter addressed to the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes to request an exemption. So far, the request has not been heard by the state.

Michael C. Ford