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INTERVIEW

Four questions for Martin Gutton

General director of the Loire-Bretagne water agency

What do you think about the economic approach to the preservation of aquatic environments?

Social and economic assessments have played an increasingly important role in the management of water and the preservation of aquatic environments. The economic approach has even become a central feature, particularly in the current crisis where it is more difficult to convince economic players to invest in the environment. The same is true for local elected officials, for whom decisions are often a choice between economic development and the environment. An economic approach is thus necessary to input objective data into the debates and facilitate decisions.

How is this approach implemented in the Loire-Bretagne basin?

The WFD targets the sustainable and balanced use of water, allowing for both protection of aquatic environments and economic development. The Water agencies must be active players in the economic development of the regions. In the Loire-Bretagne basin, economic analysis contributed to defining local issues during the characterisation process and to drafting the management plan. It put us in a position to assess the importance of water uses, to estimate the costs of action programmes and to plan funding of water policy. Finally, decision-makers and the people active in the field have repeatedly requested that we develop not only cost-benefit analyses, but also socio-economic and even sociological approaches.

What role do economic assessments play in your RBMP?

The river-basin management plan for 2016-2021 reinforced the role and importance of assessments through the creation of specific guidelines. The latter foresee the use of economic analysis as a decision-aid tool, but also stipulate that its use should not be systematic because it runs the risk of becoming counter-productive. An economic approach should be implemented only when assistance for decision-making is required. For example, in the framework of a project to restore ecological continuity, an analysis including the economic aspects (tourism, recreational activities, renewable energy) of a structure is often preferred when determining whether to remove or modify the structure. However, in many cases, sociological aspects should also be taken into account to ensure progress on this issue. In addition, the RBMP reinforced the use of economic analysis in the sub-basin management plans and in the Local water commissions, the prime spots where these decision-aid tools can have the greatest positive effects.

Why is it important to invest in the water and environmental sector?

Investments in the preservation of aquatic environments produce value and jobs. In the Loire-Bretagne basin, the average number of jobs created or saved each year thanks to the intervention programmes is 6 500. It is also important to note the indirect benefits of this funding and investment. For example, the new wastewater-treatment plant, equipped with a membrane filter, launched in Vendôme in February 2015, releases “bathing quality” water to the Loire River and significantly improves the overall quality of aquatic environments. That results in greater attractiveness of the region, enhances the natural heritage and can be used for promotional purposes.

 

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