The Loire Valley – a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its majestic castles such as Chambord, Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau – has suffered from historically low water levels before, but this year’s drought should be a wake-up call, According to Eric Sauquet.
“The tributaries of the Loire are completely dry. It is something unprecedented,” said Sauquet, head of hydrology at the National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE). “We have to worry about the Loire.”
For fish, low water levels are disastrous. Shallow waters lose oxygen as they warm, making them easy prey for herons and other predators.
“Fish need water to live, fresh water. When water levels drop that low, their environment shrinks and they get trapped in puddles,” Sauquet said.
The flow of the river is about 40 cubic meters per second, less than a twentieth of the average annual levels. It would be even lower if the authorities did not release the water from the Naussac and Villerest dams, built in the 1980s in part to guarantee the supply of cooling water to four nuclear power plants built along the river.
The four plants, located in Belleville, Chinon, Dampierre and Saint-Laurent, have a combined capacity of 11.6 gigawatts, representing almost a fifth of French electricity production.
Given that several EDF plants are already out of service for technical reasons and others are operating at reduced capacity due to low river water levels, the closure of one or more Loire plants could push up electricity prices throughout Europe.
With information from AFP and Reuters