Cooperating as a way of invigorating or revealing interdependencies

Katia Buoro, Xavier Desjardins, 2011

No territory is autarkic. Interdependence between territories expresses itself in multiple ways, through the exchange of goods, persons, and information. For some fifty years, mobility has increased considerably. This increase in mobility can reinforce processes whereby territories specialize in “domains of excellence”: some specialize in attracting economic activity, others become more residential, and so on. To facilitate these interdependencies, territories may decide to cooperate.

Such territorial specialization can cause problems. Areas in which jobs are concentrated may be tempted to disregard housing, while affluent communities may be inclined to neglect affordable housing. This situation is well known. In France, it led to efforts to counteract the potentially segregationist consequences of the transfer of urban planning responsibilities to local governments that occurred between 1982 and 1983 by increasing incentives to implement housing policy at the local level. In this way, the goal was less to reveal interdependencies than to insist that territories take responsibility for them. However, by cleverly twisting the parameters, many local territories have managed to absolve themselves of their duty to pursue genuine policies of territorial solidarity.

Another example is that of water. In France, water is a local public service. Municipalities have been responsible for it since the Revolution. The municipality is thus the legal structure that provides drinkable water as well as water treatment services. It is responsible for these services’ quality and cost, the technology they use, and ensuring they function properly. Each municipality necessarily belongs to an array of territories served by the same water system: a river, with all the tributaries and waterways flowing into it. A watershed is a coherent ecosystem comprised of different elements: water, land, and mineral, vegetal, and animal resources. The territories spanning it collect rainwater and contribute to the river’s flow. In this way, water acquires its chemical composition and reflects the natural processes and human activities found on its soil. Water is thus a natural resource that promotes strong connections between territories. Water creates interdependence.

In 1964, the French state established six water agencies corresponding to the country’s six watersheds. The basic parameter of water management policies is thus the watershed, the resource’s relevant geographic space. Each water agency is an executive organization responsible for implementing policies defined by broad national goals. Their goal is improve each watershed’s water quality. How do these agencies act? They are economic structures. They create solidarity between their various territories by collecting fees from consumers of drinking water and, for preventative reasons, from the watershed’s polluters. It is on the basis of this solidarity that they justify their actions. Thus they subsidize projects for building, expanding, and improving treatment plants and wastewater collection networks, the implementation of cleaner production processes, and so on.

In order to promote, at the watershed level, the rational use of water resources, the struggle against pollution, and the protection of aquatic milieus, these agencies are also responsible for coordinating outlines for the organization of the development and management of water resources (schéma directeur d’aménagement et de gestion des eaux, or SDAGE) and resulting water resource development and management outlines (schémas d’aménagement et de gestion des eaux, or SAGE). For each watershed, SDAGEs define the fundamental guidelines for a balanced approach to managing water resources, in addition to goals relating to quantity and quality. The legal scope of these documents is considerable. Indeed, local urban planning documents (outlines of territorial coherence, local urban planning projects, municipal maps, and so on) must be compatible with these basic goals. They must include no measures that are contrary to the SDAGE.