Pesticides remain massive in French rivers despite recent progress in the most at-risk catchment areas, says UFC-Que Choisir report, which wants farmers to pay for cleanup potable water.
“More than two million consumers receive water that, despite treatments, is polluted with pesticides or nitrates,” the report says, noting that 95.6% of French consumers receive “high quality tap water” and consistent with all health parameters “.
Pesticides, detected in 5% of the distribution networks (2.271 municipalities concerned) are the first cause of nonconformity of the water distributed: the most affected areas are the regions of intensive agriculture south of Paris, the north and a part of the southwest.
Next come nitrates, present in 0.8% of the networks (370 communes), especially in the west, and affecting the water distributed to more than 200,000 consumers.
In third place are the bacterial contaminations found in 0.7% of drinking water networks, ie 253 municipalities (215,000 people).
In fourth place, there is a pollution of natural origin, arsenic, especially in central France, which affects 0.4% of networks (154 municipalities, 38,000 consumers).
While ammonia and phosphate pollution has dropped in almost 20 years, the association regrets that the decline in pesticides and nitrates is much more moderate.
– “Very significant decrease” of pollution –
The UFC deplores the fact that no national assessment measuring the impact of the two water laws of 1992 and 2006 on the protection of catchments of water sources against agricultural pollution has been established.
His own study, conducted on 81 so-called priority catchments – where farmers are under pressure to pollute less, shows a “very significant” decrease in pollution “for nearly two-thirds of the catchments studied,” said Olivier Andrault, head of the association.
“For nitrates, on 71 catchments, there are drops in two out of three cases, it is very encouraging,” he said.
The study did not focus on the herbicide decryed glyphosate. For pesticides in general, the evolution is “very positive too”.
The main agricultural union FNSEA welcomed this progress by calling for “continuing work to accentuate it”, while stressing that the change in farming techniques had a strong economic impact on the operating costs of farms.
UFC Que Choisir regretted for its part that the few measures taken are mainly based on “the voluntary work of farmers”, prefects or chambers of agriculture “did not want to impose on the agricultural profession provisions, which, in limiting fertilizer and plant protection products could limit agricultural yields.
“Pollution of raw water in France is largely due to intensive agricultural practices, no one can challenge it” added Robert Mondot, UFC Choose. “We are facing a situation where a large part of our bodies of water are polluted by pesticides or nitrates, and on the other, those who have created this situation do not assume it financially,” he said. .
– Implementation of the “polluter pays” –
In addition to the development of cleaner organic farming, UFC-Que Choisir also calls for the “strict implementation of the polluter-pays principle”.
Citing the Office of the Commissioner-General for Sustainable Development, the UFC claims that agricultural pollution generates additional annual expenditure on consumers' water bills of between € 750 million and € 1.3 billion a year: a treatment policy Pollution “costly, unfair and imperfect in health”.
Before the second part of the Assises de l'eau, which starts on April 10, UFC Que Choisir emphasizes that it is cheaper to prevent pollution upstream by helping farmers financially than to clean up downstream.
“The challenge is to preserve quality water, but it is a bit easy to fall on the farmers when we have abandoned all the water catchments in urban areas too polluted” reacted Christian Durlin, FNSEA .
“The quality of water is a global issue, we want to take responsibility for some of the evolution of more virtuous farming practices, because the state does not provide enough support, but it is Too easy to tell us to do it alone, “he said.