National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training

Shifting from a free access to a regulated exploitation regime: groundwater policy reform in France

Shifting from a free access to a regulated exploitation regime: groundwater policy reform in France - Jean-Daniel Rinaudo


In France, groundwater development has taken place in an institutional setting that imposed few if any limits on groundwater use. Until the early 1990’s, groundwater-use licenses were almost systematically granted to requesting farmers. As abstractions rose and environmental problems emerged, the State first reacted by enforcing temporary pumping restrictions during peak demand periods before imposing annual groundwater Threshold Extraction Limits in overexploited aquifers. Thresholds are specified as annual volumes, they are defined in such a way that groundwater-dependent ecosystems can remain in good ecological condition, under normal climatic conditions. The authorized volume is then apportioned by the State among economic sectors (urban supply, industry, agriculture). The volume allocated to agriculture is officially assigned to the newly formed Groundwater Users’ Associations (GWUA) which are made responsible for apportioning it among farmers. GWUAs must develop their own rules for defining individual water allocation. The first part of the presentation will focus on the implementation of this policy reform, highlighting differences observed across French regions and emerging problems.

The second part of the presentation focuses on the challenges of enforcing abstraction limits in a decentralized groundwater management context. Newly established GWUAs are looking for instruments providing flexibility in water allocation among farmers, while ensuring global compliance with abstraction limits. One such instrument, which we tested through scenario workshops and field experiments, consist in charging a penalty to farmers exceeding their individual allocation and using the revenue generated by this penalty system to rewards those using less than their allocation. The second instrument consists of offering groups of farmers the opportunity to sign a Joint Liability Contract through which they mutualize their individual water allocations. Group members have access to detailed information on the volumes abstracted by each other, which allows for mutual control. They benefit from reduced GWU fees but they face an increased penalty in case of group non-compliance.

The third part of the presentation presents the results of an experimental assessment of these two instruments. Experiments were first conducted in standard laboratory conditions with 84 students then in the fields with 46 farmers and water management experts, recruited in 5 French groundwater basins. We found that the payment and penalty treatment has the greatest effect in reducing overall groundwater abstraction. We also show that in the second treatment, a majority of players tend to cooperate under the joint liability scheme, against theoretical predictions. We conclude that pro-social motivations can have a significant effect on experiment outcome in particular in a framed filed experimental set-up.

Dr. Jean-Daniel Rinaudo is senior economist at BRGM (French Geological Survey) where he coordinates the scientific program on Environmental and Risk economics. Trained as an agricultural and resource economist, he started his career at the International Water Management Institute (IWRM), studying corruption in large irrigation systems in Pakistan. He then joined BRGM where his work focuses on the economics of groundwater management. In his research, he frequently combines the use of quantitative approaches (mathematical programming, econometrics, forecasting models, hydro-economic modeling) with more qualitative participatory methodologies. He is currently involved in several projects dealing with groundwater policy in France, Morocco and Chile.

Date:    Tuesday 17th November 2015

Time:    11:30am  - 12:30pm ACDT

Venue: Teletheatre, Level 1, IS & T Building, Flinders Bedford Park Campus - building #47 on campus map - - Car Park 15.