Drinking water, irrigation, electricity production: tensions on sharing of water in southeast dry

The unprecedented rarefaction of the resource calls into question a system thought more than half a century ago around the Durance and the Verdon.


It is a huge water tower that many thought inexhaustible and whose exceptional drought of this year 2022 suddenly reveals the limits. Behind its blue lakes, its fresh gorges and its typical canals, the Durance-Verdon system constitutes a complex of storage, capture and distribution of the waters of these two rivers which bar, from east to west, the Haute-Provence.

In stages for several centuries and as part of a national plan from 1955, this network controlled by humans disciplined rivers with devastating floods, while responding, effectively until now, to the multiple needs of areas downstream to the major tourist cities of the Mediterranean coast.

The hydroelectric installations of Durance and Verdon, managed by EDF, normally ensure 12 % of national electricity production and represent a power equal to that of two nuclear power plants. The catchments made on the two rivers allow the drinking water supply of 3.5 million inhabitants and the irrigation of 80,000 hectares of agricultural land for a total of almost 2 billion cubic meters of water. Finally, the creation of artificial lakes, the summer level of which was previously guaranteed by EDF agreement, has given birth to essential tourism for many alpine municipalities.

“The system was dimensioned during a period when the snowpack on the Alps was very important. years when it was necessary to manage the overproduction of water more than its lack. The users remained on this idea”, regrets Jacques ESPITIER, mayor of Quinson (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) and vice-president of the Water Development and Management Diagram. In seventy years, the population in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has almost doubled to exceed five million inhabitants. And downstream consumption has continued to increase.

Water is at the heart of multiple issues, managed in a balance set by a series of mixed unions and communities, under the careful control of the State. With, today, a central question: what uses to reduce if the decrease in resource, linked to global warming, is confirmed in the coming years?

“resilience plan”

By the voice of their professional organizations, farmers defend their priority fiercely. “The first of the necessities is to have to eat,” sums up Romain Blanchard, president of the Federation of Agricultural Operators (FDSEA) in the Bouches-du-Rhône.

Drinking water supply is another essential emergency. In July, the Toulon agglomeration thus switched to the Network of the Provence Canal, fueled by the Verdon, to compensate for the historically low level of its usual resources.

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/Media reports.