Faced with drought, the government prefers megaprojects to sobriety

“ What you are experiencing is what awaits us. » The Minister of Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu was traveling to Perpignan on May 22. In the Pyrénées-Orientales, the situation is harsh. After two consecutive years of drought, the water tables have not recharged, the rivers are dry, the forests are scorched at the end of winter and twelve municipalities are already totally or partially deprived of drinking water.

The government therefore intends to respond to the crisis, and “ make the Pyrénées-Orientales territory a demonstrator of solutions and adaptation processes », specified the minister. In other words: to have an idea of ​​how France will react to tensions over water in the years to come, we must take an interest in what is happening in the Pyrénées-Orientales.

If the minister mentioned “ mobilizing local stakeholders » to save water, most of the announcements focused on infrastructure financing, up to “ at least » of 10 million euros, at least half financed by the State through the Rhône-Mediterranean-Corsica Water Agency. The State is also preparing to invest through the Ministry of Agriculture, with the Caisse des Dépôts planning to set up “ aqualoans » allowing borrowing over sixty years for projects related to water management.

New megaproject

If the minister started by talking about figures, it is because the projects selected are generally expensive. First, three installations for reusing wastewater (Reut) in Argelès-sur-Mer, Saint-Cyprien and Canet-en-Roussillon: “ It’s not the miracle solution, except that when you’re by the sea, you have no interest in rejecting [l’eau] in the sea. » The other four measures relate to improving water delivery infrastructure, in particular by tracking leaks and installing a “ field remote management ».

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Christophe Béchu on the beach in Canet-en-Roussillon, May 22, 2024.
© Nicolas Celnik / Reporterre

But the bulk of the announcements mainly concern a megaproject for which the feasibility studies will be completed. “ no later than the end of 2025 », announced the minister: the creation of a new network of canals in extension of Aqua Domitia, the vast piping system which transports water from the Rhône to Montpellier. This time it is a project going “ up to half a billion euros of work » : enough to understand “ price developments » to come on the price of water in the department.

Christophe Béchu finally regretted the multitude of “ small unions » who manage water in the department, which according to him constitute a “ fragility factor »and prefers to focus on “ pooling ».

“ We want to manage our water »

The proposals were completely different, a few days earlier, during “ palaver for a popular water assembly » organized in the village of Fillols. Around a hundred residents were brought together by the Brulls collective to take stock of the past years and reflect on the “ ways to organize »with one thing in common: “ We want to manage our water »summarizes Annie [*]a participant.

Faced with prefectural decrees imposing water restrictions, perceived as “ infantilizing decisions from above », plague François, some admit to having organized themselves at the level of a village to deviate from it collectively, in particular in order to continue to water shared gardens. And to point the finger at the model of intensive agriculture which relies on irrigation and water storage, but also land development which accelerates the concreteization of land for the benefit of tourism.

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During the popular water assembly in the village of Fillols, May 18, 2024.
© Nicolas Celnik / Reporterre

“ For fifty years the area has been developed for tourism and second homes for retirees who come to enjoy the sunpoints out Stéphane, from the Brulls collective. So solidarity with the inhabitants of the territory, I say yes ; but asking yourself: “Solidarity for what, with what logic ?” »

On the sidelines of Christophe Béchu’s visit, Jean Henric, the president of Young Farmers, a right-wing agricultural union, was pleased to have “ avoided the water war » last summer. But the drought in the department highlights fault lines that will only intensify as water dwindles.

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