Households bear brunt of France’s anti-drought plan

New tariffs penalising households using more water than normal for their size are listed in a plan that came out of a six-month state consultation into how to deal with future shortages.

24 July 2019
By Connexion journalist

Campaigners say it unfairly puts responsibility on the public, rather than on farmers and factories.

Seventy-three departments had water restrictions in place in  late July, 26 at the red ‘crisis’ level, meaning water should only be used for drinking and health and hygiene reasons (watering may be restricted to specific uses and within specified hours).

The plan also proposes different tariffs depending on season and whether a property is a main or a second home.

There would be a means-tested ‘social’ rate for low-income homes.

Councils will have to raise awareness of how to save water.

New tools will be offered to help people see their usage and how it compares to the average.

It is feared that levels of water avail-able in France could fall by 40% in 50 years, so the government wants to reduce consumption by 25% in 15 years.

It will also aim by 2025 to double the volume of water reused (eg. waste water that is purified and recycled) as France makes little use of this, preferring to pour it into the rivers and sea.

Lor­raine Levieuge, water spokeswoman for the charity France Nature Environnement, said: “We’ve had critical situations for three years and predictions are for it to happen more and for longer, more intense dry periods.”

Levels in the underground water table and in rivers are too low and are failing to be replenished, she said.

This is worrying, as most of the water we use comes from these sources, as opposed to stored rainwater.

Care must be taken over reusing more water (eg. for watering crops) to ensure it is high quality and not polluted, she said. Impacts on natural environments currently replenished with used water must also be borne in mind – including the fact that some of it goes to refill the water table.

Ms Levieuge said ‘progressive’  tariffs could help, with the first cubic metres being cheaper and prices rising in increments. But this should also apply to factories and farmers, she said.

She added that the latter often do not pay for their water as they take it directly from natural sources. What is more, they often water intensively in summer when resources are scarce.

She said different tariffs for second homes would be complicated, but the government may be thinking especially of taxing non-essential uses, such as filling swimming pools.

More awareness is essential, she added. “It’s hard to imagine we won’t have any more water coming out of the taps – but it’s going to happen if we don’t take care.”

She said the measures are good but the targets are not ambitious enough. There is also nothing in the action plan to make farmers adapt methods to the climate, such as swapping to crops that need less water, she said.

Olivier Andrault, of consumer body UFC-Que Choisir, also said the measures do not do enough to make big users take more responsibility.

He said the government plans to allow, under strict conditions, state-subsidised struc­tures for retaining and stocking water from natural sources in winter for farmers to use in summer.

UFC-Que Choisir says this encourages non-sustai­nable practices, like growing water-intensive crops such as maize, and the conditions attached may not be well enforced locally. Also farmers and factories pay for water at much lower rates than homes, he said.

Mr Andrault said people are already billed for high costs of purifying their water, which he said is mostly needed due to pollution of the water table and rivers by farm chemicals. He said there was no aim to “make the polluter pay” or to develop more organic farming.

UFC-Que Choisir also asked for new protections to stop the use of chemicals near springs but it is only going to be undertaken in 700 out of 36,000 springs.

He added: “I can’t say anything in principle against tariffs to incite people to save water, because we must change our habits. But it is scandalous that consumers will bear the brunt of the measures, not those that use the most.”

For information on local water restrictions, see - Click on your area for more detail

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