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The water police in the overseas departments

The 2006 Water law applies to all French departments, including the overseas departments (FOD). The conditions for its implementation had to be created in the latter in parallel with its deployment in continental France. For historical reasons, Onema was present only in Reunion, but the goal of good water status applies to all FODs. The first steps will therefore be a generalisation of the agency's presence in the FODs and establishment of the initial inspection programmes.

In continental France, Onema personnel serve as the water police in conjunction with the departmental territorial agencies (DDT) and, for certain missions, other State services and agencies. Overseas, inspections on water usage were previously carried out by the State, except in Reunion. Starting in 2008, two FTE (full-time equivalent jobs) were created by Onema in each FOD, within the joint environmental police forces established with personnel from Onema, ONCFS and, in certain cases, from other partners such as the national parks. The work of the environmental police is now coordinated by the departmental environmental agencies, themselves operational since 1 January 2011.

Name used in all FODs, except Reunion where the Indian Ocean Nature Brigade was maintained.


Inspections on water use in very different situations

Environmental conditions differ widely between the overseas territories and continental France. For example, how should the passability of obstacles be measured for migratory fish if the bichique is taken into account, a widely consumed, diadromous fish in Reunion that has "suction cups" and can climb walls? How should inspections be organised when the trip to certain sites in Guiana requires a five-hour hike or several days of travel in a dugout canoe? What is the point of inspections on work in rivers when high-waters during tropical storms modify the river itself? Which species and criteria should be selected to set perimeters for wetlands?

There is also great diversity among the overseas territories. Washing of clothes along river banks is specific to Mayotte. In Martinique and Guadeloupe, pesticide pollution, particularly chlordecone, constitutes a major problem. And gold washing in Guiana causes numerous difficulties, in terms of both police work and the environmental consequences.

A gradual approach

The most recent joint police force was established at the end of 2010 in Mayotte. The training courses set up by Onema since 2009 have enabled the joint forces to acquire a common set of skills in setting up the water police in the various FODs.
The inspection programmes are formulated taking into account the planning documents (RBMPs, programmes of measures, etc.). The programme for Reunion is the most advanced in terms of the inter-agency approach. In Guadeloupe and Martinique, the initial meetings were held recently, in 2011.

Water issues are gradually gaining importance in the missions of the environmental police.


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