Why protecting catchment areas

The decision to protect catchment areas meets a double need, legal and societal. As soon as it was under its responsibility, the Walloon Region tried to find the most appropriate solutions, reconciling general interest and the preservation of one of our natural goods: water.

1. The different regulations

Conscious of the importance to provide both an appropriate protection and a harmonization of catchment areas, the different competent authorities set up useful regulations. The impetus came from the European Union via a directive.

1.1 The European directive of 1979

The European direction of 17 December 1979 (Council directive on the protection of groundwater against pollution caused by certain dangerous substances; 80/68/EEC; OJCE of 26 January 1980; L 20/43), which entered into force on 15 February 1980, concerns the protection of groundwater against pollution caused by certain dangerous substances and aims to reduce or suppress the pollution consequences insofar as possible. The European will is to prevent the introduction in groundwater of the most hazardous substances (list I) and to limit the others (list II) so as to restrain the consequences that could endanger human health or water supply, harm living resources and the ecological aquatic system, or restrict other legitimate uses of water.

Each Member State was empowered to take the appropriate measures to address this double demand. This is how the Walloon Region adopted a series of measures, among which two interest us particularly: the decree of 30 April 1990 and the order of 14 November 1991.

1.2. The Walloon decree of 1990

The decree of 30 April 1990 (decree on the protection and exploitation of groundwater and drinking water, Belgian Official Journal of 30 June 1990, p. 13183) regulates water catchment in order to ensure the protection, a rational exploitation, and an equal distribution among holders. It organises groundwater protection methods through the creation of water catchment, prevention and monitoring areas.

In Article 1, the decree of 30 April 1990 defines a series of concepts, among which those of drinking water and groundwater. Drinking water is ground or surface water that, naturally or after an appropriate treatment, is aimed to be supplied to be drunk without health hazard. Groundwater means all water which is below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil.

From now on, groundwater and surface drinking water catchments, as well as artificial groundwater recharges and recharge attempts are subject to strict regulations. The main goal of the Walloon Region is to guarantee the durability of the quality and the quantity of the available drinking water.

The decree differentiates water catchment areas, prevention areas, and monitoring areas (Articles 10 to 15 of the decree).


The water catchment area is the geographical area in which surface works of water catchment are installed. The government determines the boundaries of these water catchment areas and the delimitation procedure.

The monitoring area is the geographical area comprehending the basin or part of the catchment basin and the basin or part of the hydrogeological basin, which are likely to flow into the existing or potential water catchment area. For that too, the government can form and delimit the monitoring areas. It determines the methods of establishment.

Eventually, Article 17 provides for that artificial groundwater recharges and recharge attempts be subject to the government's authorisation.

One must note that the decree provides for a series of sanctions for any offender (Articles 22 and 23): fines, imprisonment, reconditioning.

The mission entrusted to the SPGE by the decree

The decree of 15 April 1999, changing the decree of 30 April 1990 and related to the water cycle, entrusts the SPGE with a double mission: wastewater sanitation and catchment protection.

On the one hand, via a sanitation service contract, the water producer can hire the SPGE to carry out the public sanitation of a volume of water corresponding to the volume of produced water destined to be distributed in the Walloon Region by the public distribution. It should be noted that the sanitation contracts between the suppliers and the SPGE currently represent 98.6% of the volume distributed in the Walloon Region.

On the other hand, the drinking water protection service contract is an agreement between a producer of drinking water, which earmarks it for public distribution, and the SPGE, at the end of which the SPGE ensures the drinking water protection in return for payment. This type of contract between the producer and the SPGE represents 99.6% of the volume produced in the Walloon Region.

1.3. The order of 1991

The order of 14 November 1991 (Belgian Official Journal of 24 March 1992, p. 6095) sets the implementation methods of the decree of 1990. In so doing, the authorisation of water catchment is strictly regulated and the water catchment, prevention and monitoring areas are geographically and technically defined.

2. The preservation

Apart from the obligations due to the European legislation, the Walloon Region put a lot into the water field. It is as much a question of preservation of a vital good as of its protection.

In this regard, the SPGE acts as a regulator, allowing, on the one hand, to ensure the harmonisation and equity in the measures taken, and, on the other hand, to achieve economies of scale. Since 2000, the SPGE indeed assures the management and financing of the protection of drinking water distributed through network. Therefore, on the basis of specific programmes submitted by the producers, the SPGE created a protection programme approved by the Walloon government.