Fountainhead Reflections

There are several old public fountains in the villages that surround mine, and I pass them on my runs. Our village dismantled its fountain many years ago for reasons unknown to me – I do know, however, that the former mayor uses the former stone fountain trough in his garden as 2

Be that as it may, all the fountains around here have a sign above them that says ‘Eau non potable’ – Non potable water.

I’ve often wondered why the water is labeled unsuitable for consumption, since we live along a river that is, in fact, used as the area’s main water source. The water here is excellent, for the most part, and tasty.

Photo:  Olivier Le Queinec

Photo: Olivier Le Queinec

I found a French forum that discussed just this topic. I learned that there are a variety of reasons the water may be labeled non potable. It might be untreated, the village might not have the funds to have it regularly tested (I suspect this is the case in our area), or it might be polluted (sometimes the case further down the Rhône River).

Some fountains, rather than having a ‘Eau non potable’ sign, have instead a sign which reads ‘Eau non surveillé’ – unsupervised water. Which means, more or less, that nobody is saying the water is good or bad. Drink at your own risk.

One of the commenters on the French water forum said (loosely translated): “Our water should be alive, light, wild and untamed, impossible to have under surveillance and, on occasion, capricious. Thus, ‘unsupervised water’ is exactly what water should be.”

There is speculation that there are vast amounts of water in places hitherto unsuspected. A massive aquifer was recently discovered under an ice sheet in Greenland. There are untold oceans far beneath the earth’s surface. The water might not be fresh water, water that is potable. It floats our tectonic plates, it impacts volcanic activity. But it is, at least for now, more or less unsupervised.

An iceberg melts in Greenland. Photo: John McConnico/AP

An iceberg melts in Greenland.
Photo: John McConnico/AP

I like this idea of unsupervised water finding its own way.

But the fact is, only 2% amount of the water on the surface of the planet is fresh water, water we can drink. Even less is water we can access – and what we can access, we don’t seem to care for in the way we should, considering its intrinsic necessity to our survival.

Probably need to have this water under more supervision, or at least, more careful supervision, rather than less.



Today is World Water Day. The theme for 2014 is the utilization of water to generate energy around the world.

3 thoughts on “Fountainhead Reflections

  1. De l’eau non surveillée ? In this time of complete industrial/chemical deregulation ? Your forum guy must be suicidal .
    At the edge of your topic, there’s an old law coming from the old French Republic, that obliges every “commune” to offer at least one point of free potable water inside its limits . I often used it as I often did wild camping in France in summer . It’s useful to know that law, because some villages have this water point in the most improbable places . I even remember once when it was beside the gymnasium/rugby ground, behind the building . And the shapes vary incredibly . All the ancient shapes I happened to know in my childhood can be found, and it can also be a tap from a concrete wall . So if you know there MUST be one you continue your research . Just for fun when you got a car …

    • I sense a photo safari coming on. If there is a still a potable water fountain in our commune, I haven’t found it, but now I will go on a diligent search.
      Yes, the forum was filled with people who had the attitude, “I drink water from all these fountains and I’m not dead yet, so it must be okay!” Although, at least in our area, there is little industry, we are close to the spring source.

  2. Yes you can drink from water fountains in France . Actually you could everywhere before, but now I wouldn’t be sure . in newspapers like “Le Canard enchaîné” you happen to read now and then thata nuclear plant has rejected this much of this thing for one month in the river, that a toxic waste site has been created half clandestinely near this village, etc… So if you drink often you have a risk now . Until now, when they know it’s not safe they put a sign ” Eau non potable” .
    If you want to find your communal drinking water supply without asking, you have to be able to recognize it . I don’t know for your country, but here in France I’ve seen the most improbable designs . If you’re not born in France and have not traveled here and there as a child decades ago, I don’t know if you can spot all of them . Lots ov villages have kept them today . Ah, nostalgy …

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