Four hundred and fifty groundwater aquifers have been inventoried in France. Two hundred of them
are regional exploitable aquifers containing 2,000 billion m3 of water (100 billion m3 of water flow
towards springs and rivers each year). Individual well discharge ranges from a few cubic metres to
200 m3 per hour.
Seven billion cubic metres of groundwater are pumped every year. Half of this is used as drinking
water (65 % for domestic use, 20 % for agriculture, 25 % for industry).
The French water policy combines surface- and ground-water bodies for a rational management of
the resource in a context of sustainable development. Regulations are continuously being updated
to conform to EC Directives and to resource-protection and water-quality-improvement objectives.
Groundwater resources provide drinking water, industrial water, water for agriculture and for
Aquifer recharge can take years and contamination of the resource might impair groundwater quality
for a very long period (e.g. water resource damage, interrupted distribution, health risks).
Often, groundwater remediation is not technically or economically feasible.
Groundwater contamination can spread over a very large area down-gradient of the source of the
pollution and impact other groundwater or surface water bodies. Once these other water bodies are
impacted, they, in turn, can present a potential risk and remediation might become extremely expensive
or even impossible.
The consequences of groundwater quality degradation are numerous and the protection of aquifers
is a major concern for sustainable development.
The French water policy is based on four principles:
•A global (or integrated) approach taking into account the physical, chemical and biological
equilibrium of ecosystems between surface and ground waters for quantity and quality
•A breakdown into territories well-suited to water resource management: the river basin
•Participation of and dialogue between the various categories of users
•Economic incentives: user-payer and polluter-payer principle
Various actors are involved in water protection as it relates to contaminated-land management.
At the national level, the Water Division of the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development
is in charge of the legal water framework. The Directorate of Risk Prevention is in charge of contaminated
land management. Locally, the Prefects are assisted by inspectors in various regional offices (DDAF,
DDE). Six Water Authorities, covering the major river basins, have 5 specific missions:
•ensure the balance between water resources and needs
•reach the quality objectives set by regulations
•improve and increase the usable resources within the basin
•protect resources against flooding and pollution
•coordinate general actions within the river basin, such as:
-instrumentation and measuring
-assistance for water recycling and savings
-public information, etc.
These actions are financed by an additional tax on pumping and discharge rates. At the regional
level, a Basin-Coordinator Prefect is responsible for coordinating Water policy. At the local level,
towns are responsible for drinking-water distribution.
In France, wellhead protection zones exist (see Contaminated Land/Soil and Groundwater processes)
and there is an obligation to avoid enabling communication between separate groundwater aquifers
while boring (see Groundwater processes) seem to be uniquely French.
More information may be found on the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development
and the Sea web site:
Article 65 of the Ministerial Order of February 2, 1998 lists sites where soil and groundwater might
be rapidly contaminated in case of dysfunction. These are priority sites for groundwater monitoring.
Law of January 1992 concerning Water Resource Management and Protection (“Water law”), revised
This law considers water resources to be an indivisible national asset. The main principles are
•Water is part of the national heritage: its protection and withdrawal, and sustainable resource
development are of general importance and therefore in the public interest.
•National and balanced management of water resources is required.
•Water resources (surface water, groundwater, seawater within territorial boundaries) must
be protected from all contamination and their quality reclaimed in order to protect public health
and the drinking-water supply, and for public safety.
•Large-scale planning is required to prevent pollution: SDAGE (Schéma Directeur d’Aménagement
et de Gestion des Eaux) or Water Development and Management Master Plans are being developed at the
basin scale (with overlapping at the boundaries of administrative regions).
The principal differences (mainly for historical legal reasons) between the “Water law” and the
contaminated-land policy (under the ICPE law) are:
•The Water Law focuses on water management and protection. Water resources, in particular groundwater,
are considered to be potential receptors of contamination. This is due mainly to the intensive withdrawal
of groundwater for drinking water supplies, groundwater accounting for 45 % to 98 % of the supply,
depending on the region (average = 65 %).
•Contaminated-land policy focuses on the industrial sources of contamination. Water resources
are one of the four targets or receptors studied in the French risk-based approach to contaminated
sites (along with public health, ecosystems, and structures). Here, the 'fit-for-use' concept
must be applied.
In some of the authorized areas (defined at basin level as part of the SDAGE master plans, see above),
the differences between the two approaches is minimal because the remediation objective is to obtain
acceptable drinking-water quality (maximum acceptable concentrations).
A new Water Law came into effect on December 30, 2006. It aims:
•to give government officials, local communities and stakeholders tools:
•to reach ecological quality objectives for water (in compliance with the European Commission
Framework Directive of December 22, 2000, transposed into French law by the Water Law of April 21,
•to reach a better balance between water resources and needs from a perspective of sustainable
development of economic activities
•to foster dialogue between stakeholders
•to help towns and cities adapt drinking water supply and sanitation services to the new stakes:
•transparency for users
•solidarity with those in need