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new national observatory on public water and sanitation services

At the annual conference of French mayors on 18 November, Chantal Jouanno, junior minister for ecology, launched the national observatory for public water and sanitation services. The observatory, the first national database on prices and the performance of public services, will constitute a useful tool for local governments and consumers. Over the long term, it will provide a complete and regularly updated panorama on the management of water and sanitation services in France.

The observatory will serve to meet a major request of citizens for information and transparency on water prices and service quality, as well as the need expressed by local governments for the means to evaluate and manage their public water and sanitation services. Under Onema management, all stakeholders in water-service management contributed to setting up the project, including local governments, ministries, local State services (DDAF and DDEA), the Water agencies, consumer and user associations, and representatives of public and private operators.

Prices alone are not meaningful
The price of water is often the only criterion used to evaluate the public water and sanitation services, when in fact, it simply represents the costs weighing on those services. The price is affected by the quality of the water drawn for drinking water and by the treatment required for wastewater. It also depends to a significant degree on the configuration of the networks, notably on the density of consumers.

The observatory is a defining project
Chantal Jouanno has stated that the observatory is a defining project. It is the first time that a database contains both descriptive information on services and performance indicators used to evaluate service quality. The governmental decisions on 2 May 2007 made the indicators mandatory in the annual reports on the price and quality of services (RPQS), also known as the "mayor's reports". They include water prices, the quality of the water distributed, leaks in networks, the quality of wastewater treatment, numbers of complaints, debt levels, etc.

Making the observatory a central element for managers and consumers
The goal is to make the observatory, regularly updated by local governments, a central element in their service management. They will be able to "compare their service with equivalent services and monitor performance levels over time". For example, to reduce losses in its distribution system, a local government will be in a position to monitor system efficiency, i.e. the ratio between water consumed by clients and the volumes entering the system, and to assess the cost-effectiveness of its investment policy. The observatory will also help consumers by providing "analysis techniques to better understand the links between prices and the related performance levels", notes Chantal Jouanno. She hopes that "over the next two years, 80% of the French population will have on-line access to the data on their water and sanitation services".


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