PARIS (Reuters) - Water restrictions are spreading across France after rain last month proved insufficient to replenish rivers and water tables hit by a spring drought, the environment ministry said on Friday.
Curbs on water use have now been introduced in 70 out of 96 administrative departments in mainland France, the most to face such restrictions since a 2003 heatwave that led to the death of 15,000 people.
"The rain in June was not enough to increase the flow of rivers," a farm ministry official said. "We've now had a few days of strong heat and we are coming into a classic period of low water levels with the summer."
The first half of the year was the second-hottest since 1900, with average temperatures 1.7 degrees Celsius above normal, and the second-driest in the last 50 years, with only about 64 percent of normal rainfall, according to public weather service Meteo France.
The dry spring led to a first wave of water restrictions and prompted the government to pledge hundreds of millions of euros in aid for livestock farmers left short of animal feed after the drought shriveled grass and other forage plants.
Restrictions in worst-affected areas in western France included bans on irrigating crops, watering gardens or filling private swimming pools, although measures varied widely and often applied only to a small part of a department.
Maize, France's main summer-grown crop, was generally in good condition after the June rain came at the right time to boost young plants and with irrigation curbs too localized to have a major bearing for now, maize growers group AGPM said.
"The irrigation needs of maize are not as great as they would have been had the drought occurred in late spring and early summer," said Celine Duroc, head of environment issues at the AGPM. "There are no major concerns about maize production."
Planting of maize has been criticized by environmental activists for its irrigation needs that coincide with lower water reserves and higher demand in summer.
Farmers say better storage would help meet water demand and the government has pledged a five-year plan to improve management of the resource.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Marion Douet; editing by Keiron Henderson)