Category Archives: water

“Water Makes Money” shines spotlight on French water monopoly model

This documentary project is a sharp criticism of the “French model” of privatisation of water which is gaining increasing ground worldwide: the so-called public-private partership which rewards the “efficiency” of private sector management and distribution with the right to determine the cost of the service as an economic good.

Made by a German team and financed by online donations, the documentary takes a look at the dysfunction of the “French model” on its home turf, notably Véolia, the big global player which emerged in 2003 as an offspring of Vivendi Universal, present in 69 countries on five continents. In Germany, for example, the French firm has become in a short space of time the largest supplier of drinking and waste water in the country, with a role in the waterworks of 450 German communities.

In France, where Véolia and Suez supply 8 out of 10 citizens with water, many municipalities have been lobbying to bring back the municipal authorities because of concerns about the lack of transparency, poor water quality and escalating water bills. Municipalities have had trouble monitoring whether the amounts in the bills correspond to services performed. Were the billions paid in fees really used for restoring the pipes? Paris and more than one hundred other French municipalities have decided to hand back control over water services to municipal authorities, effective end-2009.
The minimum budget to complete the film is 90,000 euros and the producers are accepting online donations here until September 2009.


France launches Grenelle on Oceans

France’s Environment Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, announced last month the launch of a “Grenelle de la Mer”, modelled on the Grenelle on the Environment and focused exclusively on problems related to fishing and the oceans. The idea is to bring together experts, stakeholders and representatives of the government and business to hammer out a long-term strategic vision for policy over the next five to 10 years. The Grenelle on the Environment did work on oceans and marine resources, but the government seeks to go further and bring together all knowledge and intelligence to generate a fresh set of policy proposals. Four working groups will be formed in the coming month and each of them will work on a theme:

  • Sustainable fishing
  • Employment in the marine sector
  • Coastal development
  • Governance at the local and global level

The working groups will produce a road map before the summer which will then be submitted to an inter-ministerial committee.

One big unanswered question is how to reconcile the need for sustainable fishing policies with the fishing subsidies, which cost France 27 billion euros per year, according to calculations by Daniel Pauly, head of the Fisheries Center of the University of British Colombia. Pauly, quoted recently in Le Monde, maintains that the subsidies allow the over-fishing to continue.

The Common Fisheries Policy was set up by the European Union in 1983 to set annual fishing quotas for key fish species. Over the years, fishing industry pressure has forced politicians to barter for bigger and bigger quotas, despite scientific warnings that stocks were being over-fished.
According to the latest report on fisheries published by the FAO in March, around 28 percent of world fish stocks are over-fished.

European parliament passes pesticide ban

Members of the European Parliament passed an important law on pesticides last week which seeks to reduce their use over the next decade by promoting the use of non-chemical products and less harmful substitutes. The text, voted in by an overwhelming majority, stipulates a ban on 22 substances found in pesticides which have been linked with cancer, endocrine disruption or infertility. Only two of the products will be banned in 2009 (Carbendazim and Dinocap); the rest will not be affected until 2018, when current permits expire. The law places strict limits on crop-spraying and bans the use of pesticides near schools and hospitals. It is the first legislation of its type ever passed in the world. To encourage the shift to less toxic pesticides, member states can choose to offer grants for their use; or provide a tax exemption.

The anti-pesticide lobby MDRGF welcomed the legislation and noted that it also paved the way for better protection for bees. Some farm lobbies have warned that the legislation could drive up the prices of basic foodstuffs and even lead to famine.

via La Tribune and MDRGF

Thoughts on the R-word

R is for rationing – a dirty word that everyone is avoiding, but which looms nonetheless as the unspoken sub-text of all public discourse on the current scarcity of resources – food, fossil fuels and water. It’s also referred to as demand management, if you like institutional gobbledygook.

Growing up in Hong Kong, I remember water rationing. The water was trucked over from China and the British army distributed it to households once a week. When resources are rationed, behaviour modification follows suit. Seen in that light, it might not be such a bad thing.

This month’s issue of La Decroissance has an interesting commentary on the subject: “What if rationing, fortuitously, instead of being a constraint which is imposed or even voluntarily agreed upon, became the opportunity to invent another type of society which is more respectful of nature and humans?” It points out that rationing already exists in a number of countries: water in Algeria and Jordan, electricity in Brazil, South Africa and Niger where big cities are plunged into darkness 12 hours a day and Cuba, where many essentials like rice, bread and soap are rationed.

Denis Baupin, deputy mayor of Paris and a member of the Green Party, has called for the creation of a kind of rationing card for fruit and vegetables which will allow low-income households to buy 40 euros worth of organic fruit and vegetables per month.

Yves Cochet, another Green deputy in Paris, said in a recent interview with Le Monde: “Politicians are afraid to address the subject of economizing energy, of saying ‘We have to tighten our belts’.” Energy descent is not articulated as a goal in the European Union objectives for climate change. Right now, the objectives are: by 2020, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, renewable energies to account for 20 pct of production, and a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency.

via La Decroissance and Le Monde




Dreaming about a house in the vineyards? Think again…

A recent European study put the spotlight on pesticide content in wine. This study failed to generate any public debate in France. According to Dominique Techer, owner of Chateau Gombaude-Guillot in Pomerol and member of an assocation of wine-growers who want to see a kinder form of grape growing for the environment, the subject is taboo in the industry. Quoted by Le Nouvel Observateur, he said: “When you put these questions on the table, you are seen as a traitor. The profession cloaks itself in declarations of principle on agriculture raisonnée (agriculture which uses slightly lower-than-usual pesticide inputs) – in substance, we spray advisedly – and don’t care about the impact of these molecules on the environment and public health.” A recent study published by the Institut de Veille sanitaire (InVS) showed that during the May-August spraying period, air in the Gironde and Champagne regions is saturated with products such as the fungicide folpel (up to 1,200 ng per cubic metre), trifluraline, pendimenthaline and the highly toxic endocrine disrupter, endosulfan (around 1 ng per cubic metre). There are also traces of lindane – an organochloride pesticide which has been banned in France since 1998. No serious epidemiological study on this issue has been undertaken to date in France.

Every year, France uses 80,000 tonnes of pesticides. Wine-growing represents just 3 percent of the cultivated land area, but consumes 20 percent of the pesticides, according to the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA.

Ironically, the heavy application of all these pesticides poses a serious threat to terroir – a sacred notion in France which roughly translates as a certain sense of place and the qualities embodied by a product which are the result of local, site-related characteristics. Microbiologists warn that the massive use of pesticides could destroy those qualities of the French soils which underly the inimitable bouquets of its finest wines. Only last year, UNESCO proclaimed that the French notion of terroir – impossible to translate with one word in English – could be used as a model for site-specific sustainable development which could be applied in countries all over the world. 


via Le Nouvel Observateur


Evils of laundry detergent


Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod

Marseilles to supply drought-stricken Barcelona with water



Marseilles has agreed in principle to provide water relief to Barcelona, which is suffering from severe drought. Under an agreement between la Société des eaux de Marseille (SEM) and Aquas de Barcelona, starting from May a fleet of seven tankers with a capacity of more than 28,000 cubic metres each will transport water to the Catalan capital and its 4.5 million residents – but the paradox is that the water will be sourced from Provence, itself the driest region in France.  Reserves in Catalonia are currently 22 percent below the normal average and the government was forced to seek emergency supplies from France after an unusually dry winter


The French water will be sourced from untreated water taken from the Canal de Provence which will be transported from Marseilles to a treatment plant in Barcelona. In addition, drinking water from the Marseilles network will be directly injected into the Catalan water supply. This represents a mere 7-8 percent of the needs of the city, but it will be a temporary stop gap over the summer when the city’s population doubles with the arrival of tourists. A new water desalination plant is in the works and expected to become operational at the end of 2009.


via Les 4 Elements and Le Monde



How safe are mid-winter strawberries from Spain?

Most of those strawberries that you can buy at any French supermarket at this time of the year come from Huelva in southern Spain, Europe’s biggest strawberry production hub. They look more or less edible and are priced to sell – at 2.20 euros for a 250 g packet, it is hard to say no. But what is the true cost of these berries when you look at a sobering backstory involving radioactive contamination in the vicinity and exploitation of seasonal immigrant workers?

Huelva has been host to an intensive hub of petrochemical activity – fertilizer factories, oil refinerie etc – since 1964, and was the site of a major incident of radioactive contamination in 1998 when a scrap metal processing plant run by Acerinox leaked Cesium-137 and released a radioactive cloud. Last year Greenpeace discovered Cesium-137 in the marshes near the El Tinto river, just 500 metres from the city of Huelva, during radiation safety training. At the time of the accident, Spanish authorities chose not to handle the cesium ashes as nuclear waste, but assured the world that the dangerous radioactive material had been safely disposed of and isolated from the environment.

Several recent studies have focused attention on the health fallout of that accident.
The first, led by Professor Benach of the Pompeu University of Barcelona, showed that the province of Huelva had a cancer mortality rate which was 25 percent higher than the national norm. The second, published in the summer of 2007 bu the Juan Carlos III University, confirmed a worrying health situation. Around 30 residents’ associations have mobilized to express their concern. Fertiberia, a huge fertilizers plant, has poured some 120 million tonnes of phosphogypsum, a radioactive residue produced by transforming phosphorite into phosphorus, into the nearby marshes over the past 40 years, making the marshland “one of the largests dumps of industrial waste in the world”, according to Carlos Bravo, who heads up the nuclear energy campaign for Greenpeace, Spain.

Greenpeace has asked the European Parliament to pressure Spain to acknowledge that two rubbish dumps in Huelva – Fertiberia and Foret – are radioactive areas. Tests carried out at these sites show that levels of radioactivity are more than 25 times the maximum permitted levels by law. Last October, Greenpeace commissioned a study by France’s Criirad (Commission de Recherche et d’Information indépendantes sur la Radioactivité) which revealed that the soil in the area contained the presence of uranium 238 and 235 and thorium 232 in unusually high concentrations, and also polonium 210, the same element which led to the death of Russian spy Litvinenko, and radon 222 (a known carcinogen) and gamma radiation which is “5 to 38 times higher than the normal level”, according to Bruno Chareyon, the nuclear energy physicist in charge of the study.

Despite these conclusions, the government of Andalusia has refused to carry out an epidemiological study. Local associations are counting on the results of the European Parliament study, expected this year, to confirm their worst fears.

Huelva province accounts for 90 percent of the total strawberry production in Spain and 30 percent of the European Union. While there have not been any scientific studies casting doubt on the safety of these strawberries, it is hard not to flinch when you look at how close the strawberry fields are to the contaminated industrial area. The strawberries are bedded under plastic and need large quantities of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and lots of man hours of picking time. In recent years the work force has shifted from being a mix of North African and Andalusian day workers to migrants from Romania because the former had started to organize themselves and demand rights. Many of the North Africans decided to stay on despite the lack of work, living in unsanitary conditions in plastic shantytowns near the strawberry villages in the hope of occasional work during the peak harvest times. All in all, not a pretty picture. For the time being I’m sticking with apples and pears.

via Le Nouvel Observateur

Artificial snow at the Eiffel Tower prompts outcry

If you’ve been to the Eiffel Tower lately you will have noticed that the first level of the number one tourist attraction in Paris has acquired a layer of snow on the first floor and visitors are being offered free snow shoes as they arrive. This novelty is part of a photo exhibition called “Rendez-vous at the poles”, documenting Inuit life in the 21st century and fauna of the Artic and the Antarctic. This has prompted an outcry from an ecological association called Robin des Bois, which issued a statement last month protesting the unnecessary waste of water and pointing out that “there are places more appropriate than Paris to stage exhibitions of the polar ice floes.”

The association claimed that the operation would waste thousands of cubic metres of water, but this claim was contested by the Eiffel Tower authorities who insisted the operation would consume a total of 60 cubic metres of water for the entire duration of the exhibition (which ends on January 31), equivalent to the quarter of a swimming pool measuring 10 metres by 15 metres.

via La Croix

World’s highest dry toilet in French Alps

The world’s highest dry toilet was recently installed at Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains in the French Alps at an altitude of 4630 meters. The manufacturer, Ecosphere Technologies, specializes in waterless, chemical-free dry toilets for locations that are rural or far from sewage systems. Their toilets use a worm-composting system. If you’d like to understand exactly how they work, watch this video.

via La Maison Ecologique