Since the early 1990s, in France, the increase in water prices and the denunciation of public–private partnerships have encouraged the state, water companies and local authorities to enhance management transparency and develop their relationships with consumer groups. The opening to user representatives is challenging the French model of water supply management. These transformations are resulting in tensions between different representations of users as consumers or citizens. Between consumer and citizen, which representation is actually emerging and how is the user's status affected?
At the national level, the state and consumer groups tend to develop a pro-consumerist policy involving reflection on price levels, the efficiency of utilities and consumer information. On the other hand, companies are trying to highlight the representation of the citizen concerned about the environment and water quality. At the local level, user status varies with context. The user can be perceived either as a simple consumer or as a citizen–consumer hybrid. The examples of Grenoble and Ardèche show that consumption issues can be open to debate about public choices, investment strategies or drinking water quality. This opening up of debate depends on local authorities' competence and communication strategies, consumer groups' agendas and specific local issues (e.g. resource scarcity, corruption).