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    -Jean-Claude Blanc \ Gignac canal management board
    "Studies and modernisation projects had been underway since the end of the 1990s, but the citation delivered by Onema in 2005 put the procedure into high gear..."

A citation to jump-start water preservation

Seven years after receiving a citation for not maintaining minimum discharges, the management board of the Gignac canal manifested its proactive policy to save water by setting up an effective planning tool, a «canal contract».

The Gignac canal, located 35 kilometres from Montpellier, has been an essential factor for the economy (agriculture and industry) of the region for over a century. Supplied by the Hérault river, the 250 km distribution network of the canal supplies over 3 000 hectares of irrigated fields (vineyards, cereals, orchards, etc.) spread over 11 towns. Confronted with recurrent problems concerning the discharge levels in the river, notably during low-flow periods, the management board of the canal received a citation from Onema in August 2005 for not maintaining the 700 litre/ second minimum discharge required by the 1984 Fishing law. The board was aware of the need to optimise water use and, following the citation, it voluntarily launched a «canal contract» procedure in 2006. Following a long diagnostic phase involving all stakeholders and the definition of the strategic goals, the canal contract was signed by 24 partners in December 2011 for a five-year period. Onema was brought into the pre-contract procedure and made a number of suggestions for the draw-off equipment in order to comply with a quantifiable and verifiable minimum discharge sufficient to maintain life in the river during the summer period.

Encouraging drip irrigation

The canal contract is an extremely useful tool for mid-term (2011-2016) planning and management. The primary goal is to maintain the canal and meet the challenge of reducing water consumption. It must also ensure that WFD quality objectives are met and comply with the more severe minimum-discharge levels set by the Water law for 2014. Water savings are the most important aspect and will drive continued efforts to modernise the networks by installing drip-irrigation systems that consume less water and are better suited to needs than the current gravitational distribution system. Farmers shifting to the new irrigation system can receive 1 000 euros per hectare in aid from the European FEDER fund, the regional and departmental councils and the Water agency. The Water agency will also finance almost 80% of the overall work budget foreseen by the contract, estimated at 13 million euros for the 2011-2016 period. This proactive policy should save 10 000 cubic metres of water per hectare each year, i.e. almost 20 million cubic metres over the entire project area.