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Onema, a driving force in reclaiming water and aquatic environments

Onema is a national, public agency whose mission is to restore the good ecological status of water and aquatic environments, the goal set by the European Water framework directive (WFD). The agency, comprising recognised capabilities for scientific and technical advice in the fields of water and aquatic environments, as well as excellent knowledge on aquatic environments and water stakeholders, participates in implementing public water policy.

Overseen by the Ecology ministry, it was founded on 27 April 2007 in compliance with the law on water and aquatic environments dated 30 December 2006 and the government decree dated 25 March 2007.


The four major missions at Onema

Mobilise research on the issues of sustainable management of water and aquatic environments

Evaluating the chemical and quantitative status of water resources and the ecological status of aquatic environments, adapting to the effects of climate change, assessing the impact of human activities, detecting emerging pollutants present in very small quantities and determining their long-term risks, etc. are all major challenges for which new knowledge and innovative technologies are required. Sustainable management of water resources and aquatic environments must therefore be based on world-class targeted research.

Onema acts as a "ways and means" agency in that it stimulates French public research, sets priorities for research on water and ecosystems, and funds research projects in the public interest.

Gain knowledge on the status and uses of water and aquatic environments

A core mission consists of improving and gathering information on the status of water bodies in France for reports to the European commission and of assisting in setting priorities for water-management policies. In addition to being required by the European directives, greater knowledge on water is expected by citizens and a necessary element in ensuring the transparency of public action. Onema organises and develops this knowledge with an array of partners in a permanent system deployed throughout France and the overseas territories. Access is free for all water stakeholders and the general public.

Protect and monitor aquatic environments

Onema contributes to monitoring aquatic environments and to inspecting how they are used. The agency carries out preventive work and provides technical advice to State services on the potential impact of installations, on civil-engineering work, the increase of activities on rivers and the status of aquatic environments. In terms of inspections, Onema ensures compliance with regulations governing use of water and aquatic environments and reports any observed offences. Inspections are carried out in the framework of the inspection programme set up in each department under the authority of the prefect. Offences result in administrative measures (e.g. forced halts in the operation of installations or forced implementation of decisions) or criminal proceedings (fines, imprisonment).

Technical support for territorial management of water and restoration of environments

Onema provides technical support to ensure better integration of ecological issues in water-policy planning and programming documents, notably RBMPs (river-basin management plans), sub-basin management plans, programmes of measures, major-river plans, etc. It also contributes to formulating national strategies for management of aquatic environments.

Onema assists in restoration operations for aquatic environments around the country. With the Water agencies, it stimulates the emergence of local project-management capabilities. In addition, the agency financially supports the water sector in the overseas territories and Corsica by contributing, among other projects, to funding sanitation infrastructure. It also participates in financing the Ecophyto 2010 plan to reduce the use of pesticides.



Onema is a participant in implementing the national strategy for water and aquatic environments (continental and coastal waters). It works closely with State entities on the European, national and local levels, as well as with other public entities, notably the Water agencies and local governments. The agency is currently developing its partnerships with research organisations. It also maintains contacts with water users such as companies, farmers, environmental-protection groups and fishing federations.


Personnel based throughout the country

The staff of over 900 carry out the missions of Onema in continental France as well as in the overseas territories. Using their skills and know-how gained in the field, engineers and technicians work on aquatic environments throughout the country, in the national headquarters, in the nine regional offices and the local offices.


Annual budget of 125 million euros, drawn from the water fees collected by the Water agencies.
Workforce of 917 (899 full time equivalents), of which 80% in the territorial services.


The field of activity for Onema:
525 000 kilometres of rivers in continental France and Corsica;
• over 34 000 ponds, lakes and reservoirs;
• 1 500 aquifers larger than 10 square kilometres in size;
• 1.8 million hectares of wetlands;
• 8 245 kilometres of seashore, coastal environments that have high biological value but are also very fragile, notably in the overseas territories.


The challenge of good water status

The European water framework directive (WFD), adopted in October 2000, set an ambitious goal for the water policy of Member States, i.e. good ecological status of water and aquatic environments by 2015. In France, the WFD is incorporated in the law on water and aquatic environments voted on 30 December 2006. Following the Grenelle environmental agreement, the ambition of the French government is to avoid damage to or to reach good ecological status of at least two-thirds of all water bodies in the country.