The water level in the Gorges du Verdon worries tourism professionals as the season begins. Since the beginning of winter, rainfall has been rare and insufficient, preventing groundwater from regenerating.
This Wednesday, June 1, it’s the summer weather season that begins. Whereas water stress worries the prefectural authoritiestourism professionals around the Gorges du Verdon are not more optimistic.
The Var prefecture has moreover raised its drought alert level these last hours. Some 20 Var municipalities are concerned and have reached a yellow level, areas of Riboux and Saint-Zacharie are indicated as being in crisis.
They hire out pedalos, canoes, professionals in white water sports or in the hotel and catering industry… Everyone is surprised to see the Lac de Sainte-Croix or the Gorges du Verdon, with a water level equivalent to that of August.
While heat waves and episodes of high heat are not yet a reality, this is an unmistakable sign.
Pierre Gorius is the technical manager of three nautical bases. For 10 years, he constantly saw the level of the lake of Sainte-Croix and the surrounding area evolve over the years. But before starting this 2022 season, he sees it, the lake “is there at a level that we usually see at the end of August”.
From an attendance point of view, nothing to report at the moment : “we are not affected, because we are not so much located at the entrance to the gorges. But we are at the level of the structures, the boats are found further away, but commercially, we have not been affected for the moment . For the moment, it’s just comfort, now you have to walk 30 meters to reach the boats, whereas before you had to walk 10″.
It seems to me that there must be 4 or 5 meters less water.Peter Gorius
Technical manager of 3 nautical bases
Over the years, Pierre Gorius has also seen places open to navigation close: “While we used to offer our customers to go around the Ile des Salles, now it is no longer possible. The island has become a peninsula, so we advise against it. We will also advise against , by dint of going to the Grand Canyon. There is so little water that we will not be able to go there anymore.”
On this satellite image, the island of Costebelle is now connected by a thick strip of sand to the rest of the territory.
On older shots, still taken from space, we can see that this change in geography has taken place in recent years thanks to the drop in water level.
Some activities are subject to water releases generated by EDF. The national operator controls five dams that dot the Verdon, at Castillon, Chaudanne, Sainte-Croix, Quinson and Gréoux-les-Bains.
“There was no snow, there was no rain either. The level is regulated by the dam which fills its lakes in the springso that they are full for the summer, and then they release according to the electrical needs, and the level of the entrants.” comments Olivier from Aquarêve.
If we look in the Var, the levels are also very low, it is not only in the Verdon that we see these problems.Olivier
“There is a lack of water for activity, and for life in general” laments this white water sports professional. He who offers different activities (such as hydrospeed, paddle or kayak) is already anticipating having to do without some of these outlets.
“Aquatic hikes are activities that we do when there are no water releases. So I think that we will always have enough entrants for the Verdon to flow a little” he concedes.
“So far, we haven’t done any rafting in the spring. It is possible that next summer there will be no – or very few – days of rafting.” Oliver continues.
In all, about sixty boats spread over three bases are under the responsibility of Pierre Gorius. Drought brings with it its flood of constraints.
“For us, the biggest problem is not necessarily the lack of water, even if it is linked to that. We have a base, that of the beach of Saint-Julien, access to which is through a forest massif. When it’s dry, it’s closed. the worst year we’ve had 45 days closedin July / August, basically we have more than half of our activities that have gone up in smoke. explains this lover of nautical activities.
“As professionals, we have the right to go on site, to have the boats cross in the morning to go and have them rented at another base. But of our 30 boats, we don’t even have a dozen of them cross, it’s really just to save the furniture” finishes Pierre Gorius.
A few days of summer, the reservation book is however full. Whether in campsites, restaurants or on nautical bases, we are delighted to see a return of customers who will have shunned, for two years of Covid, certain French destinations.
“We have a few more foreigners this year, with a few more Germans than Swedes” loose one of the recreation center managers. For this employee of a campsite close to the water, this environmental aspect “has no impact on reservations, it will depend on the crowd, but for us, it is already starting to be well filled.”
Others see it as a slight advantage: “there will be more beaches to land for our customers.”
Nicolas Soulle has been rubbing shoulders with these reliefs every season for years. For him, the problem of lack of water has not yet revealed all the difficulties to come. For now, he’s almost spared it, but for how long?
“We are in the lower Verdon gorges, and normally here, there are always 15 to 20 meters deep, we are at the bottom, so we are not really affected. Normally, with EDF, we are forced to have a ‘tourist shore’, as they call it, for us to work in. Meaning they have to keep the water level high enough for us to get the boats off the pontoon .”
Near the dam, its nautical base on the bnorth of Quinson lake, at Montmeyan beach, is one of the largest around: “We are a big nautical base, we have a hundred canoes, 46 boats and 23 pedal boats.”
It is especially the “out of season” who worries himhe who had to make arrangements for the winter to be able to work normally, once the good weather returned: “Every 5 years, and this winter fortunately we did it, we dredge the lake, a team comes from Brittany which is obliged to come and widen the surroundings of the pontoon, otherwise, we can no longer work. Luckily we did it this winter, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to work in April, the level was far too low. It would have been necessary to wait for the turbines of the dam to be started.”
Out of season, it’s a bit complicated for us, to take the boats out and bring them in, with the lack of water, it really bothers us.Nicolas Soullé
Manager of a nautical base
Nicolas Soulle is crossing his fingers to see abundant rains arriving on these lands in the months to come. “In September, unless there is heavy rain, but it’s not expected, I think we’re going to be really down. We wonder if we’ll be able to work in September. .” he explains.
The holidays have not already started and everyone is already thinking of the start of the school year.