Photo: France 3 regions

Illegal dam construction sparks conflict in the South of France

Photo: France 3 regions

The construction of a dam is currently continuing despite a ban from the government, in the south of France.

The administrative court of Bordeaux will examine the file and give its judgement later today.

Several months have passed since the start of the construction of a dam in Caussade, a commune in the south-west of France. Despite environmental groups’ criticisms and even a ban from the government, local land owners – supported by the regional trade chambers – are carrying out the construction of this massive project that is expected to have serious repercussions on nature.

French environmental authorities issued an opinion that the project doesn’t take account of climate change, which could be crucial for the dam’s future and influence its efficiency.

Campaigners also point out that the building the dam also requires an exemption from the EU’s Water Framework Directive, which has not been requested.

As a precious natural resource, which is vital for wildlife and people alike, Europe’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, streams and groundwater are all protected by world-leading EU law, which national governments must put into practice through proper implementation.

The French project, known as ‘Lac de Caussade’, is expected to hold back more than 900,000m3 of water. The water will serve for summer irrigation of some of the crops in the area, mostly growing hazelnuts, corn and cereal.

A series of decisions from different authorities have affected the project.

An administrative order first granted permission for the construction of the dam by the end of June 2018. But the Agriculture and Environment ministers opposed this decision, and the order was cancelled. While no permission had been granted after that, land owners decided to start the construction without legal authorisation on November 22, 2018.

François de Rugy, French Environment Minister, met both opponents and supporters of the project. He condemned the project for continuing illegally, calling it a ‘power grab’ (coup de force), in February last year.

France Nature Environnement (FNE), one of the project’s opponents, explained the danger of such project that would endanger the natural cycle of water and threaten protected species living in the area. The project is expected to destroy more than 3,000m3 of wetlands:

“This dam is a real denial of water preservation which is essential for our adaptation capacities to climate change. Such methods encourage a short-term vision, contrary to the desirable future for agriculture, agroecology and respect of natural resources.”