Wallonia leads Europe in water management
Drinking water and wastewater provision in the Belgian region of Wallonia is managed with model efficiency by the public sector. Jean-Marie Wauthier, head of environmental desk in Walloon, explains how social responsibility has been combined with effective private partnerships to deliver integrated management of the water cycle.In Belgium, water policy is administered on a regional basis, covering the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Brussels Region. The Walloon Region has a geographic area of 16,844km2 and population of 3.4 million, corresponding to a demographic density of about 200 inhabitants per km2.
The volume of underground water pumped in the Walloon Region, from 1700 water intakes, amounts to +/-320 million m3/y. The volume of treated surface water adds up to +/- 80 million m3/y.
There are about 1.4 million connections in use and the total length of the water supply system reaches some 38,750km. Sanitation is undertaken by 328 sewage plants with capacity for a population of 2.7 million.
Drinking water supply and wastewater purification are exclusively public affairs. Those actors (61 suppliers and 7 sanitation structures) effectively represent local communities and guarantee a proximity service for consumers. A financial operator has equally been appointed in order to ensure the technical and financial coordination of the water policy: the Société Publique de Gestion de l'Eau (SPGE) - Public Society for Water Management.
Such a mode of public management has led to capital advances both at the social and the economic level, for instance with regard to pricing, social access to water services, the mobilisation of vast investment means and the stimulation of private companies in the sector whose turnover has risen dramatically.
The integral cost-recovery principle is in force and from 1990, sanitation was added to the consumer's water bill. Since 2005, a single water tariff has been applied throughout the region.
The system adopted by Wallonia is seen as a model for the European Union. With a view to guaranteeing social access to water services, the Walloon Government has founded the Fonds Social de l'Eau (Social Fund for Water) financed through a fee and intended to provide social welfare centres equipped with the financial means to help households with money problems pay for their water consumption. That contribution is set at e0.0125/m3 of water consumed.
Moreover, as announced at the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico, the Walloon Government has decided that, as from 2007, Walloon water supply companies shall add e0.0125/m3 to the consumers' water bill, in order to fund an International Solidarity Fund for Water. The Fund will be used to co-finance international water supply and sanitation projects to be carried out, principally, in French-speaking Africa.
In the field of production and supply, investment in catchment protection is estimated at ¬20 million/year during the 2005-2009 period. Network modernisation and extension markets also notably keep on developing. Rapid replacement of piping and connections is expected, with the aim of reaching at least a 1% change of conduits each year.
With regard to sanitation, public investments will amount to about e900 million for the 2005-2009 period: e700 million for sanitation and e200 million for priority sewerage. All these measures translate, in terms of investments by the sole public operators of the Walloon water sector in the 2005-2009 period, into circa e600 million for the drinking water sector and ¬900 million for wastewater, thus totalling e1.5 billion in investments to be implemented between 2005 and 2009.
While water management remains a public sector concern, the private sector is also very lively in water matters. The private companies in the sector have achieved a dynamic response and succeeded in positioning themselves as indispensable partners of the public sector.
The organisation Polygone de l'Eau organises the synergies between public operators and private enterprises. A survey carried out in 2000 has allowed the registration of 54 types of economic activities linked to the water cycle.
Those 54 activity types tie together some 4500 enterprises in the Walloon Region. This is a prospective profiling of enterprises already working or having the potential to work in the water cluster. Those enterprises generate an added value of circa e2.4 billion with over 40,000 direct jobs.
Model public sector
Wallonia's water service is entirely managed by the public sector coupled with an efficient public-private partnership. Through its determination to retain the public nature of services for drinking water supply and wastewater collection and treatment, Wallonia proves that management can be both public and efficient.
The financial means allocated by the authorities, and the funds collected on the basis of the true cost of water, enable the private sector to play an extensive role in Wallonia. Thanks to that work and the entailed building up of experience, that branch of business is now widely spreading on an international scale: our entrepreneurs, consultancy offices and universities are active worldwide.
Major European Directives are often largely anticipated and the whole set of commitments fulfilled while taking into account the social aspect of the access to the water services. Wallonia is a model example of integrated management of the water cycle.