Environment. “To make water networks more profitable, 10 billion euros per year would have to be invested”

Can you give us a list of performance indicators for drinking water networks in France?

Today there is pressure on water resources and it is about protecting them. The distribution of potable water networks is a problem as pipes age resulting in water losses.

In France, we have a network efficiency of a little over 80%: that is, 8 liters of water out of 10 are injected into the networks that reach the consumer. This is really an average.

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

So is it possible to get higher yields?

Yes, because this water, which is lost in the networks, consumes energy, chemicals, 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 less visible leaks, which sometimes bother users, are the most damaging in terms of losses. But these are obviously those that are buried and whose flow rate is often greater.

Faced with this, we have methods, based in particular on acoustics, that allow us to identify them and eliminate them as quickly as possible. We have also developed digital know-how, in particular through the use of smart meters and sensors within the networks, to ensure that the water supplied to these networks is cost-effective.

But that’s not enough…

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

This income is actually based on investment because the pipes get old and need to be replaced. But it’s not only that. Our companies have also developed the know-how to make this investment as efficient as possible, but there is also a repair part.

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

In 2018, members of the Assises de l’Eau already sounded the alarm about this waste of drinking water. Has anything been done since then?

Yes, things were done. Loans were issued to local authorities with competence in the field of water supply and sanitation. But this is not enough. There is incredible inertia in our professions because the infrastructure has been around for decades and can still resist. The challenge is to anticipate in order to avoid dramatic situations. And to anticipate, you must have the courage to invest at a time when it is not critical.

Didn’t the elected officials have the ambition to launch these investments?

We have written a manifesto for candidates in presidential and legislative elections. The numbers are stubborn: we invest today, whether public or private, just over 6 billion a year. However, to anticipate climate change, it would be necessary to invest 10 billion euros per year. We are talking about more significant investments in these networks, but we know that in some areas with high water scarcity this will not happen. That’s why we want to develop what we call “alternative waters”.

Is it to say?

It is about recovery with proper wastewater treatment, and instead of being released into the environment after treatment, it is reused, giving it a second life for irrigating crops or cleaning roads. This will make it easier to protect the resource.

Two-thirds of the French are afraid of being without water, which was not the case 5 or 10 years ago.

But isn’t that already the case?

Yes, but only in France do they account for less than 1% of wastewater. Against 8% in Italy and 14% in Spain! If during this mandate, which is being opened, we manage to move to 10%, this will be 15% less of the fee for the agricultural world, that is, by about 500 million m3.3. So this is an important issue for us.

Which necessarily entails a costly investment…

This requires a slightly more advanced treatment at a wastewater treatment plant, but above all, it requires the use of nearby. It is indeed necessary to avoid leaving the networks after treatment plants.

We believe that the water problem was not adequately addressed in the previous five-year plan. 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 allocated to water. Another example is with the climate resilience law: there was some greening of public procurement, but the absence of water was conspicuous. However, there is no territory that could develop without water. So this topic deserves attention.

These investments will be reflected in prices, but in a reasonable way.

How to give it momentum? Do we need a big water law?

No, but we want to improve our water supply observatory by giving it more resources. In this way, each local authority can benefit from benchmarking in terms of required or required investments. So it can be based on a more general framework.

So the consumer will see their water factor swell?

Indeed, these investments will affect prices, but to a reasonable extent. I remind you that a thousand liters of water costs 4 euros. It must be compared with any essential commodity. Or with our European neighbors such as Germany, where we go up to 5.50 euros per m.3.

In our manifesto, we call for the most vulnerable to be taken care of with water vouchers to meet basic needs. Look at Météo France’s 2050 map of France: if we don’t invest, we won’t make it. Two-thirds of the French are afraid of being without water, which was not the case 5 or 10 years ago.

So there is an interesting insight that we could latch onto to lead to significant investment.