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INTERVIEW

3 Questions for Olivier Thibault,

Director of the Artois-Picardie water agency.


The Artois-Picardie water agency joined forces with Onema to develop the national observatory on water and sanitation services. Can you explain the reasoning behind the new management system?

In July 2013, the Artois-Picardie water agency was appointed to manage the national observatory on water and sanitation services with Onema. For over a year now, each priority project for the water information system (WIS-FR) has been co-managed by Onema and a Water agency. The purpose of this new management system, which is now a national policy, is to facilitate public access to data on water and aquatic environments. The resulting data must consequently meet the needs of all users (citizens, journalists, stakeholders in the water sector, engineering firms, etc.) and be easily accessible. Concerning the observatory, we are aware that the internet site providing information on water prices and services does not yet fully meet the needs of users. Though supplied with the RPQS (report on the performance and quality of services) data from each town, the site does not make it easy for users to find key figures such as the average price of water nationwide, the percentage of water lost to leaks or the percentage of water bills in family budgets. One of the objectives is therefore to completely revamp the site and in the process to simplify and consolidate the data to make it more accessible.

In your river basin, you run an annual survey on water prices. What are the links between the survey and the observatory?

Our Water agency has for years carried out a comprehensive survey on water prices, for both drinking water and sanitation services, using a questionnaire sent to every town and local government. The answers received cover almost 90% of the population in the river basin. It is a simple and effective system, but it does not include the factors contributing to the price of water, e.g. water quality, yields, the percentage of leaks in distribution systems, service quality, etc. So we suggested to Onema that we merge our data, i.e. that the questionnaire data be fed into the observatory to provide it with simple, but very up-to-date information. That data will complement the RPQS performance data entered by each town and local government in the observatory database. During this initial test year, the towns and local governments in our river basin should connect directly to the observatory and not send back the questionnaire that we launched in June 2014. To date, the answers received already cover 20% of the population.

What is the outlook for improvements in the observatory?

A continuous-improvement programme is required for the observatory. The database functions correctly, but improvements are necessary to provide access to basic information drawn from the available data, for example by clearly displaying key figures, condensed data, etc. The revamping of the site should solve one of the problems noted during the environmental conference in 2013 and that concerns the WIS-FR as a whole, that is the difficulty for people to access easily understandable information. That is an important factor in ensuring that the general public has confidence in the data. The second line of improvement lies in continuing to acquire data. One potential idea would be to have a two-tier data-updating system. The first level would consist of rapid, annual updates of simple data such as water prices, similar to our survey. The second level, with update frequencies that have not yet been set, would be for the performance indicators that change very slowly, e.g. network renovation rates, investments, etc. The observatory is a partnership project between Onema, the Water agencies, the departmental territorial and maritime agencies, elected officials and water-system operators. A second idea, targeting rapid data acquisition, would be to develop tools enabling operators running systems for a number of towns or local governments to automatically enter the data for all their customers.

 

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