Eau de Paris : “Seven years after the remunicipalisation, we have reached the “age of reason”

THE FORUM, Created in 2009 as a public Establishment with industrial and commercial character (Epic), Eau de Paris manages the distribution of water in the capital since 2010. What is the balance of these seven years of activity?

BENJAMIN GESTIN – I like to say that we have now reached the “age of reason”. The beginnings have not been easy. Born of a conflict between the city of Paris and its delegated authorities, Suez and Veolia, who reproached a management insufficiently transparent and the margins too high, Water of Paris has since 2010 wanted to mark the municipalization of the water service by a price decline of 8%. Frozen until 2015, and then raised from 1% in 2016 and 0.8% in 2017, this price is still nominally lower than in 2010, despite a slight inflation. At the same time, the consumption has still continued to fall, while the operation of remunicipalisation has cost no less than € 30 million. From 2010 to 2013, it has therefore sometimes been difficult to pay the bills.
But now, the period of constitution of the board is completed. In 2016, we produced 44 million euros of profits fully reinvested in the public water service. More than 80% of our needs today are self-financed -the rest up to the reserves. We planned 450 million euros of investment over the period 2015-2020: that is, an average 75 million per year, or almost half of the $ 167 million of our direct revenue, from the sale of water to users in paris. The economic fundamentals of the companies are rather good. Seven years ago, we also su resume of trades that the city of Paris was for 30 years, and have learned to know our vast heritage.

On what are these investments?

The main chapter, namely 25% of the envelope, is represented by the maintenance of the network. We renew each year the 0.6 to 0.8%. The main objective is to improve the rate of return, the share of water produced that is billed to the consumer. Of 90%, it is already higher than the national average (80%). But we would like to reach 92% by 2020.
Since we don’t have shareholders who pay dividends, we may also invest on an alternative site in the very long term: the maintenance of our heritage. Eau de Paris has in effect a system (plants élévatoires, reservoirs and network tilted) designed by visionaries of the NINETEENTH century, and which enables sampling of groundwater and rivers, store, and transport each day to 150,000 cubic meters of water without use of electricity or fossil energy. The preserve is in any way innovative.

What is the place of book-you just to the innovation itself?

This is one of the other great chapters of our investment policy, in particular as regards the treatment of the water. We cannot afford any incidents on the supply of our 3 million users! The Société anonyme de gestion des eaux de Paris (SAGEP) (predecessor of the Water of Paris, editor’s NOTE) has also innovated in this field since the years 90-2000: it was the first regulated public to use the technical membrane. But with the emergence continues of new pollutants and the accumulation of pollution-durable, such as the agricultural, the challenge is permanent. 70 of our agents are constantly working on health research and we are modernizing our equipment every 8 years. Last year, for example, we have invested 30 million euros in the factory in Orly, to put in place a new process of treatment to better absorb micro-pollutants.
Innovation also focuses on the digitisation of our services. Paris was the first city to install meters, tele-startup: 94.000, which will be renovated before 2020. This will be an opportunity to modernise the technology of counting, and now in real time, which will be integrated to the tele-notes. The new meters installed in the network are also more and more multi-parameter e connected. The next challenge is therefore to modernize the organization and archiving, and then the operation, these data, in particular in order to better anticipate the risks, but also increase our performance. We expect, however, that we should engage in this process gradually, in order to control each step of the chain: by purchasing possibly solutions, but we rely fully on delegated authorities. And we don’t intend to replace the massive men by machines.

(Benjamin Gestin, director general of Eau de Paris. Photo credits : Sacha Lenormand)

You insist on your “sustainable management” of water. What is it?

We depend on this resource and act to preserve it. This implies first of all to protect the 140,000 acres of sensitive areas that surround our sources. We are pushing ahead with an agricultural use bio. But while owners of the greater part of these lands, as we have often no means of restraint, because of the seniority of rural leases. We rely primarily on partnerships with local actors (local authorities, associations etc) in order to drive forward the transition. We use this same partnership approach in order to preserve the biodiversity around our facilities, including aqueducts.

We are concerned, however, of our own ecological footprint. The water dedicated to the cleaning of the road and the coolant, pumped in the Seine or in the channel of the Ourcq, is non-potable, thus easier to treat. In 2016, we managed to reduce our energy consumption by 12% and our greenhouse gas emissions by 15% compared to 2004. In the same year, we consumed 95% of renewable energy, and we even produced, thanks to the valorisation of sludge from the water treatment and the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roofs of our factories. We have just put into service a geothermal power plant in the district of Clichy-Batignolles, which uses heat from the ground water as a reserve crisis of the Albian. Ele will meet 75% of the energy needs of this new Area of concerted development (ZAC).

You are nevertheless hanging to the vagaries of the change of the majority of municipal…

Nothing can be excluded, since our by-laws may be amended by the Council of Paris. But what protects us is that we are able to we establish as a positive example of modern public management, reconciling economic performance, social and environmental.

Interview with Giulietta Gamberini

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