Benjamin Peter 08:52, May 25, 2022

This is an unexpected consequence of the war in Ukraine: in the Haute Valée de l'Aude, rafting and white water sports professionals who depend on water releases from the EDF dams will no longer have water. this spring.

In question, the water resource which is lacking in this period of drought but also the need to run the hydroelectric power stations at full speed.

"We're keeping them for now, but we don't know how long," jokes Alain, showing his customers the EDF sticker that appears on each of the helmets at his nautical base.

The group he leads today from Quillan had booked for a rafting trip, except that the flow is far from sufficient to practice.

It is therefore necessary to fall back on the canoe.

“We found a replacement activity for today,” explains Alain from Sud Rafting.

The Ukrainian conflict would mobilize all hydroelectric resources

"We're going to try to do this route. We adapt as best we can, with jetties and landing stages that aren't really designed for that. We tinker, we try somehow to save our start to the season" .

If there is a lack of water it is partly because of the drought but above all that the State has chosen to limit the release of water to ensure electricity production at the level of the EDF dams.

It was at the end of April that, during a meeting in the prefecture, Didier Astre, who manages the Eaurizon base in Puichéric and who is also one of the representatives of the fifteen rental companies installed along the Aude, learned that there would be no letting go this spring.

Excluding Covid, a convention usually provides for around fifteen releases for the start of the season.

Periods of six consecutive hours where the dam opens the valves to ensure a flow of 7m3 necessary for the practice of rafting or hydrospeed.

"The main reason given is the Ukrainian conflict, which would mobilize all of the national hydroelectric resources", specifies Didier Astre.

"It's very difficult to explain to customers"

"We were coming out of four years of tunnel after the Covid but also from the historic floods which devastated the Aude department in 2018", describes Didier Astre.

“We were extremely happy to be able to exercise in a normal way, finally, this year. The forecasts were looking good in terms of attendance, the order book was filling up but there in the short term it is catastrophic”.

Many are forced to cancel groups.

Alain from Sud Rafting spends his days explaining that the reserved activity will not be able to take place as planned.

"We have no answer to give to our spring clientele," he laments.

Sylvain de Pyrène who works at Azat, further upstream, found himself last Sunday in a delicate situation with customers.

"It was planned a correct level for the practice of rafting", he says.

"I welcomed my people, we put them in uniform, we put them in the truck, but at the start there was no water. It's very difficult to explain to customers" concedes this professional that this situation makes you angry.

Lui has decided to cancel all his groups this week.

"I feel too bad for people. It's not up to them to go through this."

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Releases planned for July and August

The prefecture explains that due to the melting snow the flow is sufficient to practice white water sports.

She specifies that if no release is planned this spring, they will be daily, like every year in July and August for the high tourist season.

But many professionals are worried about the future of their companies and even of this activity when they have already recruited seasonal workers.

"The Aude is one of the few rivers in the region that can offer a quality rafting activity. Like the wind on the coast, it attracts a lot of customers just for this activity" recalls Didier Astre .

"We participate in the tourist chain in the same way as catering and accommodation. We should not destabilize everything".

They claim to get back around the table to negotiate water savings.

They even say they are ready to reduce the duration of the releases by one hour this summer, which would save a million m3 of water, in order to ensure the start of the spring season.