Environment. “To make water networks more profitable, it would be necessary to invest 10 billion euros per year”

Can you provide us with an inventory of the performance of drinking water networks in France?

Today, there is pressure on water resources, and the question of their protection arises. Distribution of potable water networks is a problem as pipes age, leading to water loss.

We in France have a network efficiency of just over 80%: this means that 8 liters of water out of 10 that are introduced into the network reach the consumer. This is really an average.

This is slightly better than Italy, which is just over 60%, or even the United Kingdom or Belgium, which are below 80%.

Is it possible to get better crops?

Yes, because this water lost in the networks consumed energy, chemicals and human and financial resources. Therefore, it must be protected. To do this, we need operational excellence based on the know-how developed by our companies, which starts with identifying these leaks. The most harmful in terms of losses are not the most visible leaks that sometimes bother users. But these are, obviously, those that are buried and the flow rate of which is often higher.

Faced with this, we have methods, based in particular on acoustics, to identify them and repair them as quickly as possible. We have also developed digital know-how, in particular with smart meters and sensors in the networks, to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the water supplied to these networks.

But this is not enough…

No, and you should be above 80%, even if there is a threshold beyond which it is unwise. The question arises, in particular, in an urban environment, where the figure exceeds 90%, because the marginal cost of even a more efficient profit would be slightly less profitable. What is certain is that we have all the know-how to improve the performance of this network.

This return is actually based on the investment because the pipes age and need to be replaced. But it’s not just about that. Our companies have also developed the know-how to make these investments as effective as possible, but there is also a repair part.

We talk a lot about upgrades, but repairs can also be very effective in improving network performance.

In 2018, participants of the Assises de l’Eau already sounded the alarm about this waste of drinking water. Nothing has been done since then?

Yes, things are done. There were loans for local authorities with powers in the field of water supply and sanitation. But this is not enough. There is incredible inertia in our professions because infrastructures have been in place for decades and can still be challenged. The challenge is to anticipate to avoid dramatic situations. And to predict, you must have the courage to invest in a moment that is not decisive.

Did the elected officials lack the ambition to launch these investments?

We wrote a manifesto for candidates in the presidential and parliamentary elections. The numbers are stubborn: today we invest, public or private, a little more than 6 billion per year. However, to predict climate change would require an investment of 10 billion euros per year. It’s a little more investment in these networks, but we know that in certain areas with high water pressure, that won’t be all. This is why we want to develop what we call “alternative waters”.

Is it to say?

It is about recovery through proper treatment of wastewater and instead of throwing it into the environment after treatment, reusing it, giving it a second life to irrigate agriculture or clean roads. This will facilitate the protection of the resource.

Two-thirds of French people are afraid of running out of water, which was not the case 5 or 10 years ago

But isn’t that the case anymore?

Yes, but it represents less than 1% of wastewater in France alone. Against 8% in Italy and 14% in Spain! If we manage to go to 10% during this opening mandate, that will be 15% less tax on the agricultural world, that is about 500 million m3. Therefore, this is an important issue for us.

Which necessarily involves expensive investments…

It requires a little more thorough cleaning at treatment plants, but above all, it requires nearby use. Indeed, it is necessary to avoid discharge from networks after treatment plants.

We believe that the water issue was insufficiently resolved during the previous five-year period. For example, just look at the Recovery Plan: out of 100 billion, 30 is allocated to the ecological transition, of which only 300 million is for water. Another example with the law on climate resilience: there was a small greening of public procurement, but water was conspicuous by its absence. However, there is no area that could develop without water. Therefore, this topic deserves a push.

This investment will be reflected in the prices, but sensibly

How to give this push? Do we need a big water law?

No, but we want to strengthen our water observatory by giving it more resources. Thus, each local authority can benefit from benchmarking in terms of required or needed investment. Thus, it can be based on a more general framework.

So will the consumer see that their water factor is inflated?

Indeed, these investments will be reflected in the prices, but wisely. Let me remind you that a thousand liters of water costs 4 euros. It should be compared to any major consumer product. Or with our European neighbors, such as Germany, where we go up to 5.50 euros per m3.

In our manifesto, we call for taking care of the most vulnerable with water vouchers to ensure basic needs. Take a look at Météo France’s map of France in 2050: if we don’t invest, we won’t get there. Two-thirds of French people are afraid of running out of water, which was not the case 5 or 10 years ago.

So there is an interesting realization that we can latch onto to lead to significant investment.