A water recycling plant in western France seeking to redistribute water in times of drought has been hailed as a pilot project for Europe in the fight against climate change.
The site in Vendée (Pays de la Loire), dubbed the ‘Jourdain project’, will work to transform used water into drinking water for homes at times when the water table is very low and at risk of drought.
The need for such a project is growing as climate change increases. Currently, less than 1% of used water is recycled.
Vendée is one of the departments in France most affected by water stress, hence why it has become the first in Europe to trial such a new ‘experimental’ site. The project is run by water syndicate Vendée Eau and the Veolia group.
The system works by capturing water, rather than letting it flow directly into the sea. Part of the water from the water treatment centre in Sables d’Olonne is captured and treated, before being redirected into the drinking water network.
Currently, used and treated water can only be reused for farming irrigation or the watering of public green spaces.
The captured water will be treated by a plant that is currently under construction. It will be filtered and disinfected twice, to remove micropollutants, medical residue, cleaning product remnants, viruses and bacteria.
This water will then be transported to the Jaunay dam through a 27-kilometre pipeline. It will then be discharged into a green area and mixed with river water before slowly reaching the Jaunay drinking water production plant, which will then make the water fully drinkable.
The unit will be put into operation in the next few weeks, to go through its year-long period of experimentation.
Depending on the results over the year, the site should then be authorised for three years to discharge part of the treated water upstream of the Jaunay dam.
From 2027, the unit will be able to treat 600 cubic metres of water per hour, and will supply much-needed extra water to residents of Vendée.
The Vendée is one of the departments in France most sensitive to periods of drought and is 90% dependent on surface water accumulated in water reservoirs. These are very sensitive to water table levels, which are currently much lower than needed in many areas due to a lack of rainfall over winter.
Jacky Dallet, president of Vendée Eau, told FranceInfo: "We must prepare the world of 2050 today. Rainfall is increasingly unpredictable and makes it difficult to fill the department's 13 reservoirs.”
A smaller plant already exists in Le Pecq, near Paris, which has a similar function, but uses water from the Seine river. It uses a system to ‘restock’ water artificially, by taking water from the river, cleaning and filtering it, and then pumping it to filtration centres to ensure it is in perfect drinking condition, before returning it to public use.
Ms Dallet said: “In the long term, the idea is to recover, eight million cubic metres of water that is currently discharged into the sea by 2030 to 2050.”
Drought risk in France
It comes as a new map released this week by the Ecology Ministry and Le Monde shows that almost all of France is set to be affected by drought this summer, with the southeast and western areas especially impacted.
On May 19, a total of 76 zones were on alert for low water levels, and 26 on high alert. This compares to six and two on the same date in 2021.
In 2011, a government website was introduced that allows users the chance to find out about the drought risk in their area, and if any water restrictions have been imposed.
The map specifically shows 22 departments at “very probable” risk of drought before the end of the summer.