VD - Villes Durables

La durabilité des services d'eau dans les grandes villes – EAU&3E

Decreasing consumptions, water quality, infrastructure renewal, water price: how to deal with the issues of water services management today?

In the beginning of XXIst century, French population is entirely connected to public water supply. Yet, in the last 20 years, and like in other developed countries, the sustainability of WSS services has been increasingly challenged by a mix of economic, environmental and social factors. To better grasp what is at stake in this evolution, and help dealing with it, a multi-disciplinary approach in water and social sciences allow EAU&3E partners to develop new knowledge and innovative tools

.Improving the knowledge on water services according to 4 axis and offering original solutions for a renewed approach of sustainability

Stemming from the observation of the difficulties met by the water services providers, the EAU&3E project aims at helping them to establish an accurate diagnosis of their services' sustainability, but also to identify the possible evolutions – whether desirable or not –, the managerial choices to avoid or the impacts of any changes on the various stakeholders. The project deals with 4 main issues drawn from a problematic based on the crisis of the water services in 4 domains of the sustainability – environment, economy and equity as the 3 “Es”, to which we add the idea of governance:<br />- to develop a new modelling approach to better understand how and why water consumptions are changing, and try to estimate their influence on resource consumption and services’ budgets;<br />- to study asset management according to a long-term approach, in particular by analysing the impact of the technical choices on the aquatic milieu as recommanded by the European and national legislation;<br />- to develop a systematic modellisation of the redistributive effects of tariffs between categories of users, to address the social issue;<br />- to try to imagine a multi-level governance to allow a better resilience of water services regarding global changes, and a stronger participation of all users.<br />To go deeper and help the managers to appropriate those issues, EAU&3E identifies what could be the water services of the future thanks to a scenarios and foresight analysis approach. This allows to take the heat out of some discussions and to evaluate the desirability and credibility of many possible options.

Six teams of researchers are working together on the EAU&3E project. Eau de Paris, the public provider of water supply in Paris, is also one of the partners. Thus, the project gathers actual stakeholders of the water services and a great diversity of disciplines from the social, economical and political sciences. This transdisciplinarity is an essential asset to be able to deal with the sustainability issue. Urban planning, geography, sociology, political and managing sciences, econometric approaches, modellization and remote detection are all called upon and connected thanks to the “3Es” approach. It consists in evaluating the cost of satisfying two dimensions of sustainability (economical and environmental issues), then comparing this theoretical cost with the water service incomes, to see whether the tariffs applied will cover this cost and still be acceptable for the users (equity issue). The knowledge gained during the four years of research in these many disciplines is also nourishing the last stage of the project: a prospective work on future urban water services.

The project has put into light the technico-geographical, economical and political processes at work in the current choices of management for the water services. Even better: the models developed during the 4 years of research – to allow a more global and long-term asset management, to explicit the impact of various tariffs on the poorest households,or to identify new water consumption trends according to the price of water, the households’ revenues, the kind of urbanization or the possible presence of private boreholes – have given the opportunity to integrate all the aspects at stake in the financial balance of the water services, and more globally, in their sustainability.
A workshop organized in November 2012 with 30 stakeholders of water services – public and private managers, elected representatives, state agencies, water users and civil society representatives, etc. – allowed discussing the 8 scenarios written by the research partners on future water services. A guide towards a more strategic action for the authorities in charge of the water services has been realised after this workshop. It aims at identifying the strategic alternatives and evaluating the sustainability of intended options. It is organized according to 5 main questions: how to insure a sustainable funding of my service? What kind of strategic relationships should I develop regarding the neighbouring services or territories? How to link my service with the resource it depends upon? Who should I integrate in the definition of my strategic management? And finally, what vision of the public service do I want to promote?

The research works held during the EAU&3E project have been regularly presented to other researchers and to water services’ stakeholders, always creating intense and interesting discussions. This effort in communicating has proved to be essential for a project which aims at the continuation – at local level especially – of the current thinking on water services management and of the use of the newly developed tools. A political and long-term vision has to be appropriate by each stakeholder, based on scientific results. The last stage of EAU&3E – the prospective work – has showed the importance of this specific dimension in public services management. The other main new opportunity to work on would be the ability to better take into accounts the margins and mutualisations of all kind, especially between rural and urban areas.

Since the beginning of the project more than twenty scientific articles and chapters have been published in peer-reviewed journals or books. But a steady effort has been undertake by all the partners to publish in popularization works, such as Le développement durable à découvert at the CNRS Editions, or the contribution of ASTEE entitled Urbanisme et services publics urbains, l'indispensable alliance or in the on-line bilingual review of French Universities, ParisTech Review.
All the models developed by the research partners - especially the TSMO model on redistributive effects of various tariffs - will be available for the water services managers or authorities, by contacting the corresponding research teams. Last but not least, all the articles and reports written during the 4 years of research are available online on the EAU&3E project's blog (see below).

This research project involves a partnership of French engineers and social scientists who have worked in parallel on the sustainability of water public services for several years, and more generally on what can be termed 'urban water', which includes the interaction between the city and its environment. In developed countries, for the first time at the end of the 20th century, the ever growing demand of potable water stopped and was even reversed in some places, reducing the income of those utilities which were funded exclusively or largely by water bills; and this took place at the moment when sewage collection and treatment services were increasingly transferred to water bills, and when drinking water criteria became more stringent. Lastly, water services are becoming a mature industry, with no more subsidies available to reproduce the huge and capital intensive infrastructure on the long run. This new situation generates a growing distrust from some customers and citizens, and distrust is also stirred by the yet very different situation observed in large cities of the South, where a significant proportion of the poor population is still not connected to the services, or with low quality and intermittent water. Paris Water Company, one of the largest in France, is very interested in developing new analyses and foresights to face a complex and uncertain future, and decided to join this project, and to support a comparative approach on other regions, other developed and developing countries. This utility serves only down town Paris, but interacts frequently with other actors in the water supply and the waste water fields. We broadly characterise the sustainability issue with what the Eurowater-Water 21 partnership (5th framework program, coordinated by Francisco Nunes Correia) termed the 3 Es: economic, environmental, and ethical-equitable. We have already developed an application of this approach to water services sustainability, with several cases of middle and large size cities in Europe (and Brasilia, Brazil). But it is clear that research is needed on the third axis, since it is crucial for the demand side approaches that are developing today. Not only do water utilities largely ignore the motivations of people to use more or less water, but they increasingly face complex management problems, which are increasingly difficult to solve through an increase of technological sophistication. This implies a new trade-off between water services and water resources, which is part of the issue of urban water. This in turn makes a fourth issue very important: multi-level governance of urban water. On each of the 4 issues the partnership proposes to perform additional research, so as to integrate improved approaches into a foresight model. This means there are 4 core-workpackages: • What are the deep causes for water demand growth or reduction, and how do consumptions interact with tariff systems and redistributive effects ? • Can we evaluate better the present and potential policies to support access and limit disconnection to vulnerable groups, despite growing costs and prices for water services? • How is the long lasting character of water systems infrastructure taken into account in its sustainable management, and is it possible to adopt alternative and cheaper technical solutions? • What new institutional formulas can help provide a better fit between functional and institutional territories? These tasks will be realised by the partners with interaction with the Eau de Paris, but we have also identified other types of metropolitan areas which are really worth while studying. We then have identified two territorial and transversal tasks, one on other large metropolises (Bordeaux, Nantes), and one on cities with fast growing suburbs (Montpellier, Perpignan, Beziers). The core part of the research will be prepared by a year of investigation on what is already available in other developed countries. This first year will also provide the time needed to recruit the non permanent personnel like PhD students and post-docs. Then the core research will develop during years 2 and 3 or more. The final year will be used to develop the 8th and last task: it consists in using all the accumulated knowledge into a foresight approach of the sustainability of water services, which will be discussed in an important international seminar to be organised towards the end. This project is co-ordinated by Bernard Barraqué and Sébastien Treyer (CIRED – CNRS), and mobilises the UMR Cemagref GSP (Strasbourg), the UMR G-Eau (Montpellier), the water and economics service in BRGM, UMR ADES in Bordeaux University, plus two private partners, Eau de Paris, and SMASH, a small company dedicated to data analysis for the social sciences.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



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