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The Rhone-Mediterranean basin

The Rhone-Mediterranean basin
  • 14 million inhabitants
  • 25% of the French territory
  • 20% of France’s agriculture
    and industry
  • 50% of France’s tourism activity
  • 11,000 water courses exceeding 2 km
  • 1,000 km of shorelineThe basin covers mainly 5 regions (23 departements). It also includes a number of towns located in another 7 departements.

There are abundant water resources in the Rhone-Mediterranean basin:

  • Large number of surface flows (44% of the national total)
  • Exceptionally high density of water bodies (Lakes Léman, Annecy and Le Bourget, etc.)
  • Large wetland coverage (surface area over 7,000 Km²),
  • 400 catalogued aquifer systems,
  • Glaciers (15.5 billion m3 of stored water), etc.

Significant challenges facing the basin


Water pollution by dangerous substances impacts fish stocks, drinking water and the ecosystem. The fight against this type of pollution therefore addresses one of the most significant challenges facing the Rhone-Mediterranean basin both in economic terms and in health and environmental terms.

  • Pesticides
    35% of water courses and 12% of underground water in the Rhone-Mediterranean basin are contaminated by pesticides, sometimes at very high concentrations.
    These pesticides are used by farmers (90%), private households (9%) and local authorities and infrastructure managers (1%).

    In order to bring water quality up to a good state by 2015, a certain number of measures will be needed: incentives will need to be introduced to encourage environmentally friendly farming practices; regulation will need to be introduced; the fight against this type of pollution will need to be integrated into the consultative initiatives taken by the catchment areas (SAGE, environment contracts) and initiatives will be needed to protect drinking water quality, etc.
  • Dangerous substances
    Pollution by dangerous substances is difficult to track down and catch. Contamination from industrial, urban, road infrastructure and other waste varies in origin and spread, depending on substance and environment.

    Achieving the goal of returning the water chemistry to a good state will require improvements in our understanding of the pollution and its origins, reductions in industrial, urban and port waste and raised awareness and action from the various stakeholders in the consultative initiatives.

Water resource management

Overall, the Rhone-Mediterranean basin has abundant water resources (the Rhone, the Durance, the Verdon, etc.), but they are unevenly distributed: certain sectors such as the Ardèche, the Côte-d’Or, the Drôme, etc. suffer from recurring water shortages.

Water is diverted for three purposes: agricultural irrigation, industry and drinking water.

  Agricultural irrigation Industry Drinking water
Surface water (total 100%) 70% 15% 15%
Underground water (total 100%) 10% 25% 65%

Whilst meeting vital human needs, the diversions significantly impact on certain environments, especially in periods of drought.

Over the next twenty years or so, important changes will need to be introduced, notably linked to climate change, population increase and developing needs (farming, leisure, etc.). It is therefore essential that we act now with the future in mind to gain a better understanding of this resource and what is required to maintain a sustainable equilibrium and ensure continued economic viability and the longevity of the aquatic environments.

The physical restoration of aquatic environments

With urbanisation, man-made river banks, barrages, dredging, etc., many of the Rhone-Mediterranean basin’s water courses have been developed with the result that their natural function is disrupted, biodiversity is impacted, etc.

Physical restoration carried out on water courses like the Drugeon, the Ouche and the Rhône has produced some improvement. However, the challenge is not to turn these aquatic environments into ‘Sanctuaries’, but to carry out development and restoration projects with the intention of preserving the conditions they need for their continued existence.

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Agence de l'eau Rhône Méditerranée Corse • 2-4 allée de Lodz • 69363 Lyon Cedex 07
tél : 04 72 71 26 00 • fax : 04 72 71 26 01