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French syndicate denies error despite farmhouse’s €2,000 water bill

British resident now plans formal mediation proceedings to challenge the huge garden water bill at his isolated home

Paul Gribble with his €1,991 water bill Pic: Picture provided by Paul Gribble

Paul Gribble, who lives in an isolated mas farmhouse in the south east, has domestic water supplied from a well but garden water from an irrigation canal run by a local syndicate of farmers, fruit growers, communes and the state.

Mr Gribble, a consultant conflict negotiator for businesses, bought the house, near L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Vaucluse, in 2013, and moved there full-time with his partner in 2017.

Between 2017 and 2019, his average garden water consumption was 620m3, and his average bill was around €300 a year.

When the meter reading for 2020 was taken, it inexplicably showed a consumption of 10,600m3, equating to a bill of almost €2,000.

The first reaction of everyone was to presume i must have a leak

“The first reaction of everyone was that I must have a leak, but when they came out to check, it was obvious there was no leak,” said Mr Gribble.

“A test done by switching off all the water outlets, and then looking at the meter showed nothing moving, and then a specialist company using special equipment came and they also found no leak.”

He is convinced the meter is faulty, possibly because it has no filter on the upstream side.

“It is water from the canal and can contain bits of mud, grit or plants,” Mr Gribble said.

“That might have caused the fault – or it could be that the meter turned over from 1999.9 to 2000 during this period, and there might have been a mechanical fault.”

He added: “For us to have used all that water, we would have had to have the sprinklers on for 24 hours a day from June through to the end of August, which is impossible – we were here and would have seen them, and the garden would have been absolutely soaked.”

Readings from 2021 show a return to normal consumption patterns but syndicate does not recognise a problem

The irrigation runs on an automatic programmable watering system from a DIY store, which is wired into the house’s mains electricity supply and which “is working as well as it was when it came out the box”.

Attempts to get the water syndicate to recognise there is a problem have fallen on deaf ears and readings taken for 2021 show a return to normal consumption patterns.

An offer to halve the bill as a goodwill gesture was rejected by Mr Gribble, who is worried that similar situations might arise in future.

Because the water bill is collected by the Trésor Public, it is subject to a majoration penalty (for late payment). Mr Gribble has explained the situation to his local tax office, and paid a little more than the normal amount.

“They have said they will wait until it is settled, and there is no majoration until it is,” he said.

“My next step is to go to the mediator for a formal decision, which you have to do before trying the courts.

“It is frustrating, especially as to me it seems the syndicate is trying to use the fact that funds are collected by the Trésor Public to avoid looking seriously at the issue and checking its own equipment.”

The syndicate supplying the water, ASCO du canal de l’Isle, told The Connexion it had no comment on Mr Gribble’s case.

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