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Reinventing diagnostic tools to better protect water resources

The Guide to the Territorial Diagnosis of Agricultural Pressures and Emissions – DTPEA – is a new tool that has been jointly constructed with different actors. It takes account of the diversity of catchment recharge areas, favours coordination between actors and proposes an evolving diagnostic approach which can contribute to improving the protection of these recharge areas.

Paysage du Périgord, le long de la Dordogne.. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe
Updated on 11/23/2017
Published on 09/14/2017

A good supply of drinking water is a major public health issue, and protecting this resource from different types of pollution and government services (EU Water Framework Directive, French Grenelle laws, etc.) are particularly attentive to this issue. The protection policy is based on defining high priority water catchment recharge areas and developing concerted territorial action plans.

However, these efforts to protect water catchments are only slowly taking effect, and among the factors in play questions have been raised as to the relevance of the diagnostic tools employed. In 2016, the ONEMA (which now forms part of the French Agency for Biodiversity) therefore asked INRA to compile a new guide on the territorial diagnosis of agricultural pressures that could replace the existing approach. 

Reviewing the existing tool to encourage innovations by different actors

A critical analysis of several existing territorial diagnoses of agricultural pressures (DTPA) made it possible to identify the pitfalls often encountered during these studies, which included: the simplified description of practices did not take account of variability between years, the evaluation of practices was based on compliance with standards rather than their true impact on resources, the indicators did not enable an estimation of timelines or the intensity of pressures. Furthermore, the researchers performing the diagnoses were often confronted by practical feasibility problems and a lack of coordination between the different actors involved.
The INRA agronomists applied an approach based on ergonomics so that the involvement of users in designing the new guide would enhance its relevance and favour changes to their activities. 

Joint construction using an iterative process

The ergonomic analysis of professional practices was able to distinguish four particular types of user: researchers, managers, project leaders and institutional partners. These users were therefore mobilised by means of an iterative approach: compilation of a prototype for the guide, individual and then collective consultations, all of them repeated six times. Thus 95 volunteers from the different activities were involved in this process.

A guide to characterise emissions and pressures

The Territorial Diagnosis of Agricultural Pressures –DTPA – has now become the Territorial Diagnosis of Agricultural Pressures and Emissions – DTPEA – as the new version also takes account of the emissions generated by different types of cultivation.
The guide resulting from this work has been designed to facilitate coordination between the principal groups of users. It comprises three sections (cf. Insert 1), each of which focuses on a target audience: elected representatives and decision-makers, project leaders or researchers.
It is now possible to situate different combinations of practices in cultivated environments at a multi-year scale by applying the concept of the cultivation type and then estimating their impacts on water quality. It can be adapted to the broad range of the situations encountered by offering a range of tools to adjust the diversity of territories, challenges and resources allocated. It is possible to supplement the diagnosis as interventions progress in a territory so as to enrich the data over the long term and act in full knowledge of the facts.
The guide has been available in a test version since October 2016. Its joint construction is still ongoing, with volunteer researchers having joined the working group this year. Adaptations may be made to the test version so as to further improve the guide.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Laurence Guichard AgroParisTech-INRA Joint Research Unit for Agronomy (UMR 0211), F-78 850 - Thiverval-Grignon
  • Raymond Reau AgroParisTech-INRA Joint Research Unit for Agronomy (UMR 0211), F-78 850 - Thiverval-Grignon
Associated Division(s):
Environment and Agronomy
Associated Centre(s):

For more information

La structure du guide. © INRA

The protection of catchment areas

Efforts to ensure the protection of catchment areas are managed by regional government bodies as contracting authorities.  The approach comprises several preparatory phases after which the diagnostic elements are reviewed in order to implement an action programme. This last stage must be accompanied by short and medium-term follow-up measures to evaluate the efficiency of the action programme and drive adaptations to it.
Schematic representation of implementation of the method used to protect a catchment area against diffuse pollution.

captages onema, proteger un captage. © INRA