Water restrictions under climate change: a Rhône–Mediterranean perspective combining bottom-up and top-down approaches
Drought management plans (DMPs) require an overview of future climate conditions for ensuring long-term relevance of existing decision-making processes. To that end, impact studies are expected to best reproduce decision-making needs linked with catchment intrinsic sensitivity to climate change. The objective of this study is to apply a risk-based approach through sensitivity, exposure and performance assessments to identify where and when, due to climate change, access to surface water constrained by legally binding water restrictions (WRs) may question agricultural activities. After inspection of legally binding WRs from the DMPs in the Rhône–Mediterranean (RM) district, a framework to derive WR durations was developed based on harmonized low-flow indicators. Whilst the framework could not perfectly reproduce all WR ordered by state services, as deviations from sociopolitical factors could not be included, it enabled the identification of most WRs under the current baseline and the quantification of the sensitivity of WR duration to a wide range of perturbed climates for 106 catchments. Four classes of responses were found across the RM district. The information provided by the national system of compensation to farmers during the 2011 drought was used to define a critical threshold of acceptable WR that is related to the current activities over the RM district. The study finally concluded that catchments in mountainous areas, highly sensitive to temperature changes, are also the most predisposed to future restrictions under projected climate changes considering current DMPs, whilst catchments around the Mediterranean Sea were found to be mainly sensitive to precipitation changes and irrigation use was less vulnerable to projected climatic changes. The tools developed enable a rapid assessment of the effectiveness of current DMPs under climate change and can be used to prioritize review of the plans for those most vulnerable basins.