Water management in France is unsuited to the scarcity of the resource, according to the Court of Auditors


“Water is part of the common heritage of the nation. » With this reminder of the environmental code by way of introduction, the Court of Auditors sets the tone for the chapter of its annual report, published Friday, March 10, devoted to the subject: serious and critical. The law also specifies that “the protection, enhancement and development of usable resources, while respecting natural balances, are of general interest”.

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Yet France does not respect its own principles with regard to water resources, nor does it achieve the “good status” imposed by a European framework directive: 56% of its surface water bodies and 33% of underground passages are far from it. Its policy turns out to be illegible because of the multiplicity of actors, too complex, changing due to a “legislative instability”, according to the Court. It lacks coherence and even reveals itself ” contradictory “down to government level, where the expectations of ministers of the environment, agriculture, health, industry and energy clash.

“Already, in a growing part of the territory, the consumption linked to the various uses exceeds, over longer and longer periods of the year, the capacity of the environments to supply water”, underline the magistrates. It is now “a major concern”, In France. No less than thirteen regional chambers of accounts have worked on the report. They also intersperse their text with numerous territorial examples – such as these different restriction decrees issued by two prefects of two contiguous departments concerning the same watercourse. They conclude with a “organization unsuited to the challenges of quantitative water management”as the title of their analysis indicates.

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The national water policy is based on an approach by hydrographic basins – there are seven in mainland France, including Corsica, to which must be added those overseas. Of very variable sizes, some straddle several regions. This organization, which dates from the 1960s, seems “consistent with the physical and geographical reality”but it does not correspond “with no administrative division of the country”. However, everything became more complex when it appeared that the available resource was becoming rarer, both because of climate change, imbalances between withdrawals and reserves, but also because of diffuse pollution (which affects 43.3 % of surface water bodies).

Degraded wetlands

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