Franco-Swiss Genevese Aquifer
The Convention on the Protection, Utilization, Recharge and Monitoring of Franco-Swiss Genevese Aquifer (Convention relative à la protection, à l’utilisation, à la réalimenation et au suivi de la nappe souterraine franco-suisse du Genevois, “Convention”) was signed between France (the Community of the Annemassienne Region, the Community of the Genevois Rural Districts, and the Rural District of Viry) and Switzerland (the Republic and Canton of Geneva) on 18 December 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland and went into effect on 1 January 2008.
The Member States are France (the Community of the Annemassienne Region, the Community of the Genevois Rural Districts, and the Rural District of Viry) and Switzerland (the Republic and Canton of Geneva).
The Genevese Aquifer extends over 19 kilometers underneath the southern extremity of Lake Geneva and the Rhône River across the border between France and Switzerland. The width of the aquifer varies between 1 and 3.5 kilometers. An average of 15-17 million cubic meters of water are extracted annually from the subterranean aquifer by the Swiss and the French.
The Genevese Aquifer Management Commission (“Commission”) is comprised of three Swiss and three French members designated by the Council of State of the Republic and Canton of Geneva and by the Community of the Annemassienne Region, the Community of the Genevois Rural Districts, and the Rural District of Viry respectively. The Commission is co-headed by a member with deliberative powers designated by each delegation. The sub-prefect of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, representing the French State, is a member of the Commission in a consultative capacity. Technicians designated by each party and specializing in water matters can be appointed, in a consultative capacity, by the Commission.
The Genevese Aquifer Management Commission is obligated to propose an annual aquifer utilization program that takes into account the needs of various users. The Commission may propose measures to protect the waters in the aquifer or to remedy causes of pollution. The Commission also gives its technical opinion on the construction of new extraction works on the aquifer and on the modification of existing equipment. In addition, the Commission audits construction and operation costs for the purposes of cost sharing.
The Commission maintains an inventory of all recharge equipment and existing extraction works, which is updated yearly and provided to the parties. The inventory details the terms and conditions governing the waterworks, including authorized extraction volume, installed power and protected perimeters. All waterworks are equipped with a device that records the volume of water extracted from the aquifer and the Commission periodically records the volumes in a register. It is the users’ responsibility to gauge volumes regularly and to conform to legislation. All waterworks are also equipped with a device that records variations in the water-level of the aquifer, and these recordings are required to be made available to the parties on demand.
The Commission issues a technical opinion on every new waterworks or equipment, as well as any modification to existing waterworks and equipment. The respective Member State, subject to the provisions of the Convention, then makes a decision on the projects. The Commission oversees the construction of new equipment until it becomes operational.
The water from the aquifer is analyzed based on criteria used by the Member States. The Commission establishes fixed intervals for when analyses of the water extracted from the aquifer are to be made, the results of which are then exchanged and recorded. Water injected into the aquifer is subject to the same type of analysis as are the waters of the Arve.
The Member States are also obligated to maintain a monitoring network, installed by local authorities, to warn of accidental pollution that may affect the quality of water in the aquifer. In the case of an emergency, Member States must take appropriate protection measures in the event of a pollution warning.
The Commission designates representatives, as necessary and on an equal basis, who are authorized to control the volume of water extracted from the aquifer by various users. The Commission meets periodically, at least once a year, and upon the request of either of its Member State delegations, alternatively in Geneva or in one of the other communities that are party to the Convention. The conclusions of the Commission’s meetings are published in a joint report. The services of the secretariat are assumed by the Aquifer Service for the Geneva State and by the Community of the Annemassienne Region for the French Party. For more information on the Commission, see Legal Personality.
Swiss and French authorities jointly control and protect the resource in their respectively territories. The Commission also works with local authorities to maintain a pollution monitoring network. Users of the aquifer also work with the Commission by providing their estimated volume of extractions at the beginning of each year and reporting data from extractions at the end of the year.
The respective authorities in the Member States make independent decisions, within their competence, regarding new projects. See Functions.
Any dispute relating to the Convention is to be submitted to the Franco-Genevese Regional Committee for conciliation. If a settlement cannot be reached, the dispute is to be referred to the Franco-Swiss Consultative Commission for Problems of Neighborliness. Any matter relating to the interpretation of the Convention shall be resolved in accordance with Swiss law.
The Commission maintains an inventory of all waterworks and equipment, which is available to both Member States. Additionally, the volume of water extracted is to be recorded periodically and provided to the members of the Commission. The Commission also maintains a record of water level variations of the aquifer, which is available to the parties on demand. Each user or group of users of the aquifer also informs the Commission of their estimated volume of extractions from the aquifer at the beginning of each year and their actual usage at the end of the year.
The Commission issue joint reports that are distributed to the Member States. See Organizational Structure; see also Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization.
Each Member State assumes for itself the operational costs of the Commission. Investment expenditures and operating costs, including maintenance and repairs, insurance and taxes, labor, and purchasing of materials, are determined annually, based on a formula established by the Commission.
The French share of the artificial recharge costs is to be calculated yearly from the 1st of November to the 31st of October. The annual French contribution for the operation of the artificial recharge installation is based on the percentage of water extracted by French users out of the total volume extracted. However, in the event that French users extract less than 70% of their reserved water volume, the French contribution will be based on 70% of the reserved water volume, rather than the lesser amount actually extracted. At the end of each year, Industrial Services of Geneva will prepare a detailed accounting. Once ratified by the Genevese State, Industrial Services of Geneva will send the invoice for the French users’ recharge share to the French parties.
French users are entitled to an amount from the aquifer not to exceed 5 million cubic meters per annum, including 2 million cubic meters that are not included in calculating the percentage of water extracted by French users for cost-sharing purposes. If necessary, dispensations to the 5 million cubic meters limit can be accepted by the Commission after consultations with the operator.
All waterworks are equipped with a device that monitors the volume of water extracted from the aquifer, and these records are kept by the Commission. However, it is the user’s responsibility to comply with relevant legislation and to regularly gauge the volume of water extracted. See Functions.
Each user or group of users is obligated to inform the Commission of their estimated volume of extraction from the aquifer for the next twelve months. The operator then takes into account the total reserved water volume in managing the recharge operations. Each user is entitled to a 20% extraction margin with respect to its reserved water volume. Extractions in excess of the 20% margin are to be reported to Geneva, permitting Geneva to take certain measures as needed. In case of a quantitative management problem with the water, Geneva will enlist the assistance of the Commission in arbitrating the matter.
The Convention applies for a thirty year period, after which it can be renewed only once, with joint agreement, for a period of three years. Either Member State may request at any time the opening of negotiations to modify or supplement the Convention. Such negotiations are to begin within six months of the request.
The Convention replaced the Arrangement on the Protection, Utilization and Recharge of the Franco-Swiss Genevese Aquifer, which had been in effect since 1978.
- Convention relative à la protection, à l’utilisation, à la réalimenation et au suivi de la nappe souterraine franco-suisse du Genevois, 18 Dec. 2007, available athttp://www.unece.org/env/water/meetings/legal_board/2010/annexes_groundwater_paper/Arrangement_French_Swiss.pdf.
- Bernard J. Wohlwend, An Overview of Groundwater in International Law – A Case Study: The Franco-Swiss Genevese Aquifer, Workshop III on Harmonization of Diverging Interests in the Use of Shared Water Resources, 17-19 Dec. 2002, available at http://www.bjwconsult.com/The%20Genevese%20Aquifer.pdf.