All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Dirty water wars

Revolution!Image by docman via Flickr

It's been a funny year again...the river didn't drop as low as a few years ago when I could cross almost dryshod, but it was possible to cut up and remove a lot of the dead trees brought down over the last winter which were blocking the river bed. Some readers may recall that there was a European Union grant to do just this, but, having paid for the 'study' and for the 'democratic participation', there wasn't much money left to do the work,so, as usual, we end up doing it ourselves.

With 2015 and an EU deadline on clean water coming up, there is a lot of activity about the great clean up, and a great deal of disgruntlement as well.

Let's revisit sewage wars. Local water authorities have taken over responsibility for the disposal of waste in a seemly manner, but problems have arisen about what to do about houses and installations which are miles from anywhere. We have all been paying a contribution on our water bills towards installing sewage stations, from which we have no benefit whatsoever, and the water board's proposal to inspect our individual disposal systems - at a price - and decide whether we are within the ever changing 'norms' are not going down too well. Quite apart from the time it is taking. Prospective purchasers are very wary of buying a house in a commune that has not been inspected in case they end up with a bill for putting the septic tank in order, while rumours - via the postlady's colleague - from a neighbouring commune that has been inspected indicate that French beaurocracy is excelling itself yet again. Two residents have been told that they do not have installations at all, even though they can lift the lids and point to the very real existence of same, so are slated to put in new septic tanks at vast expense, not to speak of the delays in getting the artisan francais to get off his backside and do the work before the deadline expires. What happens if they miss the deadline? Fines, that's least so the postlady's colleague says. Others, notably one whose entire waste runs into a ditch on the approaches to St. Ragondin, are declared to be in the 'norms' when everyone knows that they are not, and the lack of confidence in the whole operation is so palpable that an association is to be formed, to haul the water board chief down to explain himself.
The majority view is that the water board took on responsibility for sorting out the sewage, the water board has been taking our money to build sewage plants and it's down to the water board to sort things out for the rest of us without further charge. There wouldn't be so much opposition normally - the rural French are pretty spineless, after all - but times are hard, the taxe fonciere has just come in to startled intakes of breath, and the Green Tax is about to strike.
An association in another canton has just had the pleasure of interviewing the water board chief, and by the reports in the local rag it was an exciting evening. This being France, I am not convinced we will get anywhere, but it will be fun to have an evening of beaurocrat baiting.

Then we turn back to the rivers. We used to have a prefet - Paris's man in the department to see what local government is up to and tell it to stop it - who was quite clued up on the nature of rivers. He felt that they should have water in them and was quite strict about imposing bans on irrigation by farmers. The regional prefet - Paris's man in the region to etc. - sees rivers differently. He sees them as existing even when they don't have water in them and has been overturning the departmental prefet's bans. He has now managed to overturn the departmental prefet himself, who has departed for some cupboard in Limoges. The regional prefet has been explaining that the problem is one of drought, not competition for use, that next year will probably be wetter and that the problem will thus go away of its' own accord without the need to upset the farmers. One thing is for sure, a regional prefet with a farmers' revolt on his hands will soon also be in a cupboard in Limoges.

Meantime, there is a scheme to clean up the rivers without upsetting farmers. Most of the existing weirs are slated to be destroyed, thus giving much longer stretches to enable water to clean itself. At least, that is what the river technician said when he came round. We shall hear more at the public meeting - and a great deal as well from the outraged fishing lobby. No very enviable position for a French beaurocrat, caught between farmers and fishermen, so that's another evening of bloodsport.

And people ask what we find to do in the countryside in winter......
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  1. Bloodsport season, right after hunting season!

  2. Zuleme, I am so annoyed...that is not my word of choice but we are public here...with the refusal to accept that we have to stop nitrate infiltration into our water courses. What is worse, I have to pay
    1) for the grants to the perpetrators
    2) for the clean up.
    Just, for the moment, don't ask about property taxes...I've just had the first round, claiming for a house I've sold last year as well as the house I live in...the whole thing will go on for years..

  3. And I thought Spanish bureaucracy was bad! (actually, I've just had a pleasant morning at the income tax offices, where two very nice ladies spent two hours sorting out my messy fiscal status, so Im feeling a bit benign about Spanish bureaucracy at the moment...).

    Anyway, your post reminded me of the situation here: I came home a few weeks ago to find huge machinery excavating in the field behind my garden. When I asked my neighbours what was going on, they told me that a sewage treatment tank was being installed. I didn't even want to ask where our sewage has been going up till now (we live beside one of Spain's major rivers, which is use for fishing and for irrigating most of north-west Spain...).

  4. Pueblo girl, yes, our tax people are very nice and helpful too...except that everything to do with property is now being shunted off to Lille to be dealt with...or not, as the fancy takes the Lille office.
    After their last effort, closing down my bank account as a consequence of my failure to answer correspondence they failed to send me, I am now settling in for an extended argument which will require a certificate from the lost somewhere in the back of the bookcase so I'll get distracted and read something instead of finding it...and a vast amount of recorded delivery letters.
    Round here, there's still a lot of little pipes running into the river..take the boat out when the water's low and all is revealed. They also have a nice habit of flushing out the sewage station when the river is in flood, resulting in lots of bits of loo paper hanging high in my riverside bushes and trees when the waters subside.
    It is clear from this evidence that the sanitary towel has not been replaced by the tampon as the protection of choice of the local females...
    Still, I see that the Eu directive is agitating aauthority in spain as well as in France...I just wish I didn't think it was all window dressing.

  5. Limoges! Is that were préfets go when they fall from grace? I feel almost sorry for them. I wrote a short story once about a préfet who fell from grace following an incident involving two polish seafarers, a large jar of swarfega and some Jerusalem artichokes. He ended up in the DDE in a small town in Guyana.

    Our commune has just waved bye-bye to the last house still emptying into a stream. Welcome to the 21st century.

  6. Jon, subconsciously, I think I was thinking of French generals whose incompetence was such that it became noticeable even among their peers and they were sent to a base at Limoges...and the cupboard thing must come from to 'mettre en placard' someone who is not wanted....well, I think that was what I was thinking!
    That short story should be given an airing...
    I don't know when our lot will join the 21st of the suspicious little pipes runs from the village chateau...

  7. Bureaucracy. Strange that is a French word...n'est-ce pas?

  8. HT, yes, French.
    At one and the same time omnipotent, incompetent and omnipresent.