In the heart of Barjols, not far from the river Écrevisses, very close to the fountain Burlière, a house has been the home of a society for which water is not a simple element of the landscape for more than thirty years. For its inhabitants, it is an object of study, research, whose stocks never seem to run dry.
At a time when climate turmoil makes water a threat when the elements are unleashed, or an extremely coveted common good when, on the contrary, rainfall becomes scarce, the importance of the work of the Regional Water House no longer needs to be demonstrated.
Meeting with the new director, Karine Viciana.
Regional Water House, what is it?
We are an association created in 1991, especially by the former director (Georges Olivari, editor’s note), founder of the structure with academics. Initially, the objective of the association was environmental education, mainly for children. Another activity was conducting studies on the aquatic environment.
With, as a theme, fresh water.
Yes, we are specialists in the functioning of freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Mostly running water environments rather than lacustrine environments. Our field of knowledge and experimentation is actually rivers. Be it the headwaters of the basin, that is, the alpine streams, to the small coastal rivers that cross our coast.
What are your missions?
Today we are working on issues of scientific mediation and democratization of knowledge. This is really our core business: to continue to create knowledge. We need to understand how it works, how these population dynamics are set up in our rivers, how they react to the new challenges of extreme climates, how to predict their response to these risks.
With, always, your educational role.
Younger generations remain a strong entry point. With National Education we develop programs around three objectives. River and Biodiversity Education first, to better understand how the river works, its territory, associated biodiversity… Then, flood risk culture programs, needed in relation to what has happened these years the last and what the future holds. Finally, the culture of drought risk: make them understand that in our territory there are long periods when we will be without rain and therefore we will have to adopt more economical behavior.
By what means do you think you can influence the behavior of the target audience?
We are not here to tell people what to do. We bet on developing people’s intelligence and skills so that they too can take on their responsibilities. We will feed the public with information so that they are able to act in full knowledge of the facts. So it actually passes through children, but not only.
You also work with politicians.
As experts in science mediation, we translate scientific studies so that our decision makers can hold all the cards and make the most informed decisions possible. We also support consultation, in the context of public debates for example, or at conferences; with civic collectives; job tips… Sometimes through our tools or our media.
You try to be innovative…
It’s a way to make our communications as engaging as possible. For example, with holograms, virtual reality, augmented reality. We are currently working on another type of support, in collaboration with sociologists: a photolanguage (a tool consisting of several photographs that allows opening a debate on a certain topic, editor’s note) for floods. Not to mention Aquatics, which provides website visitors with the scientific and educational resources we have available.
The last aspect of your activity: scientific studies.
Indeed, we respond to public contracts for monitoring studies, waterway quality, heritage inventory. We are also developing our research programs for orphan environments, that is, without a management structure, or in somewhat remote territories, where there is not necessarily any study, but which we find interesting. Our studies are carried out on biodiversity, water resources, the functioning of hydrosystems… This is a really important part of our activity.
What human resources do you have?
We have 18 permanent employees. We have funding coming from the markets we respond to, but also subsidies from the Rhône-Mediterranean Water Agency, Department, Region. However, public money is becoming increasingly scarce and it is important for us to find other types of funding. Through sponsorship, for example.
In closing, what would you like to bring to the Regional Water Center as the new director?
Methods and tools change. We too have evolved. But the core business remains the same: asking, measuring, researching, maintaining an intellectual curiosity. And make it known to as many people as possible so that they all become water actors, rediscover this Mediterranean water culture. Every drop of water counts. And it is the small drops of water that make great rivers.
“The Provence Canal must not accept waste”
“The Department of Var experienced an exceptional drought situation in 2022, surpassing in magnitude that of 2021, already classified as severe. It began at the beginning of April with the beginning of the vigilance phase in the entire department. .” In the country of the prefecture, we do not go there with four paths: the 2022 drought is unprecedented. And things won’t work out.
This is the deep conviction of Karine Viciana, the new director of the Regional Water House, the object of whose study is precisely this sweet water which is missing in summer. “Honestly, we didn’t expect to see these rivers dry up so early in the year, and for so long. It’s unprecedented.” She continues: “We have been living on credit for years. And today, in January, there are areas that are in a state of drought. It has been almost ten months. It is very worrying.”
Hence the importance of the acculturation mission carried out by the association. In particular, to a public necessarily affected by this drought: farmers.
“How do we find a more Mediterranean agriculture?”
“We held a conference precisely for these professionals, farmers have already made great efforts to save water, but the increase in agricultural land and the establishment of an agriculture that is not compatible with the climate does not help the situation. “
Taking a leitmotif already stated by her predecessor, Karine Viciana adds: “How do we find a more Mediterranean agriculture? This is the objective we have to give ourselves. This is about farmers, but also the elected officials who make decisions about land use planning.”
There is one development that allows farmers to access a large amount of water resources: the Provence Canal. “This is one of the main structural works of water transfer, admits Karine Viciana. Moreover, fortunately, the seniors foresaw and were able to take advantage of EDF’s large hydroelectric dam reserves to consider a project of this scale.” However, the director of the Regional Water House is not convinced of its actual use.
“Today, the Canal de Provence – it is its role as a developer – brings water to where the demand is expressed. This facilitates local resources. But this should not guarantee the creation of an unsuitable agriculture.” Especially since even the Canal de Provence is not eternal: “We saw, this summer, the height of the lake. The canal should not accept the waste.”
“Corporate social responsibility”: an insufficiently recognized approach
For the Regional Water House, the challenge of the coming years may be to secure a future. Because if the association has been recognized as being of general interest, the fact remains that its financial balance depends a lot on the subsidies it receives, from local authorities such as the Department or the Region. But things are changing… “Public money is becoming less and lessexplains Karine Viciana. It is important for us to find new sources of financing”. Patronage, for example. But not only.
The idea would be to use scientific skills to respond to markets and calls for tenders. An activity already established within the Regional Water House, but which has recently suffered from fierce competition with large national and even international groups. And to fight back, the Barjolaise association relies on CSR.
“The CSR approach is part of our DNA”
“Corporate Social Responsibility”. A term that defines the examination of environmental, social, economic and ethical issues of the activities of the companies they want. And it is in a CSR approach that the Regional Water House is a part of today. “We had been doing it for a long time without necessarily knowing it, smiles Karine Viciana. It is part of our DNA”.
Concretely, this is particularly reflected by equality, equal pay, implementation of remote work, social dialogue, etc. “It’s also transparency in our funding methods.”
The association’s CSR approach, Karine Viciana hopes to see it pay off in the future. “The objective is also to understand that working with us means being part of this approach.” But it is not visible. “In calls for tenders, CSR criteria are often missing. However, if project owners were to play the game, we could highlight our strengths. We, between our employees and our service providers, want to be a real player economy of the territory.
Hard to follow the one who founded the house? It is not the impression that Karine Viciana refers to. Since September 2022, the trained biologist has taken over from Georges Olivari as head of the association.
A perfectly natural transition for the woman who joined the team in 1993, just two years after the creation of the regional water office.
“I was at university when I discovered the structure, set up by my teachers, university researchers. I was a student in marine biology. Between two periods of sampling and trawling, I came to spend three months helping this association which it was the beginning. I never left it!”
At that time, it was impossible to be an employee, so Karine Viciana evolved as a volunteer.
“In 1994 I was able to have my first work contract here as an environmental education facilitator. And then I moved up the ladder. I became a pedagogical manager, then a deputy principal. It was only natural that I became the principal of this house that I know it well.”
A continuity flowing from the source, finally.