Golf courses stay green as ‘flower towns’ wither in French drought

Amid persistent drought, water bans are hitting French citizens and businesses hard – with a few surprising exceptions.

While the owners of the most affected areas are prohibited from watering their gardens and wash their cars, Golf course owners are permitted to water their greens.

How does France deal with water shortages?

After having lived water shortages during Francesecond driest month ever recorded, 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.

But some sectors manage to slip through the net.

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”.

A department resists and has banned the watering of golf courses in their entirety. The prefecture of Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany announced last week that it was strengthening measures to preserve water resources.

While the golf courses are preserved, the local heritage is threatened

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” while farmers and individuals are not allowed to water wheat or vegetables gardens…it’s just indecent,” one user tweeted.

Christian Meistermann, the 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