A view from Europe: EUWMA 2017, Avignon

A view from Europe: EUWMA 2017, Avignon

On Monday 4 September, Robert Caudwell, Vice Chairman, and I attended on behalf of ADA the 22nd Annual Meeting of EUWMA, hosted by our French colleagues, the Association Nationale des Associations Syndicales de Propriétaires (ANASP), at the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct near Avignon, Provence.

Water issues across Europe

It was clear from the meeting that local water management authorities across southern Europe had experienced a very dry 2017. Italy had the driest year to date in the current century which has followed 15 years of drier than average weather. France experienced the driest winter/spring for 60 years and Portugal its hottest spring since 1931, and one of the driest, which has contributed to severe forest fires. The concern in all three nations and Spain is now regarding water quality and for groundwater and flash flooding (see Livorno, Italy) as rain arrives this autumn.

Meanwhile, weather in northern Europe has been more benign, although parts of Germany had suffered from flooding with €50M of damages in Lower Saxony.

In Belgium the Flanders Government is re-organising water management, which is welcome given it currently has a complex three tier structure of watercourses involving a national environment agency, municipalities, provinces and the 63 local wateringues (water boards). The wateringues have been frustrated by being excluded from the process and this causes concerns that local engagement may be reduced in the future.

EUWMA matters

EUWMA discussed that 2019 will be significant for water matters in the EU as this is when the Water Framework Directive will next undergo a review. EUWMA agreed that the position agreed in the Frankfurt Declaration in 2016 remains the priority for members across Europe. The declaration seeks to retain the objectives of the WFD but extend the time period for deliveries good status/potential beyond 2027 (given this will not be delivered by counties across Europe), move forwards from the ‘one out all out’ principal which is limiting improvements in water management to watercourses currently further from good conditions, and seek a better definition of heavily modified water bodies to reflect their cultural and societal importance.

EUWMA also discussed an Avignon Declaration on sustainable energy and energy efficiency. ADA has been assisting the drafting of the Declaration with the EUWMA secretariat and our German colleagues who proposed the topic last year and demonstrated its value at the mid-term meeting in Dithmarschen. The Declaration will be published at www.euwma.org during October.

With ANASP holding the EUWMA presidency in 2017/18 it was announced that they would like to use it to better understand the different funding sources and opportunities available to local water management bodies across Europe and how this differs between nations. The French Association is currently building up its membership to strive to include all of the Associations Syndicales Autorisées (ASAs) involved in irrigation and drainage management, many of these are very small with a turnover of under £25,000 per year. ADA supported this proposal and think that it may prove helpful to highlight positive funding avenues IDBs may wish to explore in the future.

There was a brief session to discuss Brexit led by Robert Caudwell and I where we highlighted the ongoing process regarding EU-UK talks and the repeal bill currently before Parliament. We stressed that until we actually leave, EU law continues to apply and thereafter the repeal bill is intended to in effect transcribe all EU law into UK law. Thus it is likely to be many years before UK water and environmental legislation diverges significantly from that of the EU and trade agreements will likely ensure consistency broadly remains.

There is an irony that many EU countries are expecting a greater focus on pillar 1 funding through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-Brexit with potential reductions in pillar 2 for public goods such as the environment and flooding, whilst Michael Gove has intimated the opposite direction of travel in the UK when we create our own agricultural policy.

The ANASP intend to hold a mid-term meeting for EUWMA members on the financing of local water management in Montpellier during spring 2018 before FENACORE from Spain host the Annual EUWMA meeting in Córdoba in September 2018.

Water management in Provence

On the following day the ANASP provided a tour of their members’ significant water management sites in Provence. The majority of which are related to irrigation and water transfer from the Rhône and Durance rivers.

The Canal De Carpentras is the largest ASA devoted to water transfer for irrigation in France, irrigating an area of ​​10,600 hectares. Demands for water have led to some of the secondary irrigation network being modified to pressurised systems rather than reliant on gravity. The system we visited had been funded by the EU and Departmental Chamber of Agriculture.

We also visited the location where the Canal draws water from the Durance at one of several dams on the river managed by EDF energy. Water held back behind these dams is transferred into other man-made channels managed by EDF where the water passes through a series of hydroelectric power plants before re-joining the Durance (more info in this pdf from EDF). In this way the energy produced, as well as the load on the network, can be better regulated.

However, despite quantities of water being reserved by legal agreement for use in agriculture there are challenges. EDF are lobbying the French Government to reduce the quantity of water available for irrigation. This could potentially impact crop production and groundwater recharge in the future as climate change reduces snow melt from the Alps that feeds the river.

Finally we visited the Crau, the ancient confluence of the Durance and Rhône, which constitutes their vast flat alluvial fan. Here a historic gravity system of small irrigation canals feeds water from the Durance across a predominantly grassland area. Farmers here produce Crau hay, which benefits from a protected designation of origin from the French government. The irrigation in this manner is important for recharging the aquifer across the Crau, but it is at risk given pressures from both climate change and urbanisation. We learnt about the work of the Syndicat Mixte de Gestion de la Nappe Phréatique de la Crau (SymCrau), a committee of stakeholders in charge of groundwater resource management looking to balance the future needs of water users across the Crau basin.

Ian Moodie, Technical Manager, ADA