PARIS (Reuters) – Very low groundwater levels have put France on course for a worse summer drought than last year, mainly in the southern part of the country which had been ravaged by massive wildfires, French geological service BRGM said on Thursday.

France suffered its worse drought on record last summer and, like most of Europe, has faced a dry winter that has prompted concerns over water security across the continent.

“The situation is worrying because the whole of France is affected and we have had several dry years,” BRGM hydrologist Violaine Bault said.

Groundwater levels are generally below those of 2022 and recharge is insufficient in most of the country after a particularly dry winter, she said, adding that many parts of France would very likely need to introduce water restrictions in the summer, notably in central regions and around Paris.

Some groundwater levels were at their lowest on record in the wine-making Roussillon region and in the southern Var region, which hosts the tourist town of Saint-Tropez. Both suffered repeated large wildfires over the past summers.

Crops that could be affected by a lack of water in southern France mainly include fruit and vines. The region grows little grain.

Weather forecaster Meteo France said on Thursday that rainfall in March had returned soil humidity to normal levels after record lows at the start of the month.

However, the soils, which were already dry at the end of February, dried up further in southeastern part of the country and reached record low moisture values in surface soils in the southwestern Aude and Pyrenees-Orientales regions, it said.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Mike Harrison)

FILE PHOTO: A bridge and sandbanks of the Loire River in Montjean-sur-Loire, as France faces records winter dry spell raising fears of another summer of droughts and water restrictions, March 2, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe