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Following the Environmental conference in September 2013, the government designated increased efforts against nonpoint-source pollution from farms as the number-one priority in the Water section of the road map for the ecological transition. Onema carries out inspections to ensure compliance with regulations.

photo Philippe Bossard - Onema

Pesticides and nitrates are produced by human activities, notably farming, in the form of nonpoint-source pollution that contaminates virtually all continental waters, including rivers, groundwater and littoral waters. In addition to causing major degradation of aquatic environments, the contamination by nitrates and pesticides makes extensive and costly treatment necessary for drinking water in order to reduce the risks for human health. EU regulations have been reinforced to deal with this situation and the Water framework directive (WFD) has set targets for achieving good water status. In France, the interministerial decision (12 September 2006) concerning the sale and use of phytopharmaceutical products established precise conditions and forbid their use in the immediate vicinity of water resources. Use is forbidden in pesticide-free zones, which correspond to the minimum distance, specific to each product, between the resource and product use.

Maintain regular inspections to encourage change

Inspections are regularly carried out to ensure that farmers, local governments and the general public observe regulations. Onema provides science advice and its technical support, as well as its know-how in inspecting how water and aquatic environments are used, notably the pesticide-free zones. The agency was appointed as the national manager of pesticide inspections for pesticide-free zones in November 2010 and is thus in charge of planning, organising and reporting on the inspections. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of inspections increased significantly, rising from 1 899 to 3 040. "A number of factors explain the increase, for example the preparation of true inspection programmes in the departments and the presence in the field of more inspectors trained by Onema", notes Philippe Bossard, from the Inspections and territorial-action department at Onema. Among the 3 040 inspections on pesticide-free zones in 2013, 1 365 resulted in the issuance of warning documents, i.e. a document spelling out the applicable regulations if non-compliance has been detected. Onema is also involved in inspections on nitrates, providing support for the DDTMs (departmental territorial and maritime agencies) that manage the programmes. Finally, the agency also assists the regional health agencies (ARS) in setting up inspections on abstraction supply zones (ASZ).

In terms of the results achieved, particularly for pesticides, the 2006 regulation has had positive effects and has resulted in compliance levels higher than 95% for areas near water resources. "The change in work habits is due in part to the inspections which discourage certain behaviour. Efforts to communicate both before and after inspections are indispensable to enhance their effectiveness, notably in problematic regions such as the Paris region, SW France, the Rhône valley, Brittany, along the Loire River, and the Limousin and Normandy regions", concludes Philippe Bossard.

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