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First report from the national observatory on public water and sanitation services

The first national* report on the organisation, quality and prices of public water and collective sanitation services in France was published during the World water forum in Marseille last March. It was drawn from the first annual report of the national observatory on public water and sanitation services which is managed by Onema under the responsibility of the National water committee.

The observatory was launched in 2009 and provides internet access to public data on economic, technical, social and environmental aspects of services. The first report by the observatory is based on data from 2009.

Large number of services
The study revealed the small size of areas covered by the 35 000 public services that currently exist in France, particularly concerning sanitation services. Over half of all French departments have between 100 and 200 collective sanitation services each. The Haute-Saône department alone has 478.

Two main types of management
Almost 70% of public drinking-water services and 77% of collective sanitation services are directly managed by the local government. However, for drinking-water services, this ratio flips in terms of the population served. "Smaller drinking-water services, those serving fewer than 3 000 inhabitants, are generally managed directly by the local government whereas large services commonly delegate to a private company", notes Maria Salvetti from Onema.

An average price of 3.62 euros (incl. VAT)
The average price of water and sanitation services is 3.62 euros per cubic meter for an annual consumption of 120 cubic metres, of which 1.90 euros is for drinking water and 1.72 euros for collective sanitation. That represents an average monthly budget of 36 euros per household and an annual bill of 434.40 euros (incl. VAT).
Significant geographic differences in the price of drinking water were observed. They are due to the geographical context, the concentration/dispersion of residential units, the quality of untreated water, tourism and any specific environmental regulations made necessary by the fragility of the local environment.

Mediocre information on water systems
Not all local governments have the same level of management and knowledge (system map, age of pipes, position of branch lines, etc.) on their water and sanitation systems. The level is significantly lower in rural areas than in urban zones. It increases with population densities and particularly with the number of consumers supplied by a given system. "Larger services probably have more human and financial resources that can be devoted to monitoring and managing their systems", observes Maria Salvetti.

76% average efficiency of drinking-water distribution systems
The 850 000 kilometres of water distribution systems in France lose a lot of water. A quarter of the water drawn, transported, treated and distributed never reaches consumers. In addition, the average annual renewal rate of systems has been estimated at 0.61% for drinking-water systems and 0.71% for collective-sanitation systems over the past five years. At those rates, it would take 160 years to completely renew drinking-water networks and 150 years to replace sewer networks.

Lower annual water consumption
A final bit of information is that the average annual consumption per inhabitant amounted to 54.7 cubic metres, i.e. 150 litres per day. These data confirm the trend toward reduced household consumption.

* Except for three overseas departments, Guadeloupe, Guiana and Mayotte.

The full report and the summary document are available at


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