The mayor of Gap in the Hautes-Alpes has introduced water restrictions. From today it will be illegal to water gardens, wash cars or to fill private swimming pools. The mayor has asked everyone in the area to make an effort. The restrictions will be reviewed on the 2nd of December. The region has been suffering from a drought for some time with little rain over the last few months. Many reservoirs are lack water and there are worries that the shortage may have a knock on effect on the ability of ski resorts to make snow.
The lac de Serre-Ponçon is one of the largest reservoirs in Western Europe. Normally it contains 1.2 million m3 of water covering a surface area of 28.2 km2. This is held in check by a 123 meter high earth dam. The lake is unusually low for the time of year, 20 meters below its maximum level - normally this situation is not reached before the end of February. During September and October water was being extracted at a rate of 90 m³/second. Ski resorts have their own reservoirs and in most cases these were filled up over the late spring and summer. However they are now hoping for a good winter to restock the water table. Some estimates say it would take 5-6 meters of snow to bring water levels back to normal for next year.
Resorts have invested heavily in snow canons to make up for the deficits left by climate change but with an unusually warm winter in 2006 and a general lack of water man made snow may be reaching its logical limits. It takes 4 000 m3 of water to cover 1 hectare of ski run. 1m3 of water gives 2.5 to 3 m3 of snow. 20-30% evaporates in the air. The resorts argue that they return to the environment all that they take. However water storage disturbs the natural water cycle. Rivers may be dry in the spring at exactly the time that fish are spawning and there may not be sufficient flow, given the influx of visitors, to sufficiently dilute waste water causing pollution down stream. It is also true that water is in shortest supply for snow-making when it is most needed - when there is poor snow-cover the ground has no insulating coat of snow freezing any available water.
The problems faced by resorts following the failure of Transmontagne, Ceuze and the ongoing problems in Val d’Allos have created a lively debate on the future of Southern Alps resorts. Even in a good winter results only progress in line with inflation leaving little fat for harder times. Pierre Bouvier, mayor of Monétier, part of the Serre Chevalier ski area and president of Ski France which represents the top 100 ski resorts say that they need a more customer centric approach. The exclusive focus on downhill skiing has to go but for Jean-Yves Remy who runs Orcières 1850 this is still the main revenue earner for resorts even if up to half of visitors don’t ski. Remy also points out that thanks to snow-making the area only saw around a 2.5% drop in turnover compared to nearer 30% in 1989-90, the last winter with similar conditions to 2007.