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  • Environments policing activities

    About "protection of aquatic environments by inspecting uses and enforcing regulations"
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WATER POLICING ACTIVITIES : ONEMA REINFORCES ITS COOPERATION WITH STATE SERVICES

In its efforts to reduce damage to aquatic environments and achieve good ecological status of rivers by 2015, Onema cooperates with State services. It provides them with science advice and its technical support, as well as its know-how in inspecting how water and aquatic environments are used. The inspection activities at Onema are part of a joint inspection strategy set up in each French department by the MISE (Inter-service water group). The reinforcement of our cooperation with State services currently takes the form of agreements signed with the préfets. About two-thirds of the agreements have or are in the process of being signed and the remaining agreements will be signed by this autumn.

Attacks on aquatic environments are many and frequent, including accidental pollution, diversion of rivers, obstacles to ecological continuity, work likely to modify river regimes and their physical characteristics or to destroy spawning zones, organised poaching, etc. That is why inspections on uses are an essential part of public water policy. Onema actively participates in this inspection mission in two manners. It provides State services with its technical know-how in preparing police documents and it serves as a source of proposals in devising a shared inspection strategy reflecting the guidelines contained in the Water framework directive as well as actually running inspections to ensure compliance with regulations. The obligations in terms of the results achieved contained in the European directives reinforce the importance of inspections. The European commission has no qualms about launching legal proceedings with the resulting fines and penalties against Member States that do not apply the directives.

The major issues involved in inspections on use

  • Guarantee the quality of water resources intended for drinking water,
  • Guarantee observance of pesticide-free zones along rivers and undertake efforts against behaviour clearly harmful to the environment,
  • Guarantee minimum flow rates downstream of dams and other installations,
  • Ensure the travel of fish migrating upstream and downstream in protected rivers,
  • Preserve the hydromorphological characteristics of rivers and spawning zones,
  • Protect the quality of water and aquatic environments (temperature rise, pollution, unsuitable species),
  • Preserve wetlands as a source of biodiversity and water resources,
  • Fight against organised poaching of protected species (eels and glass eels, salmon, etc.).

Opinions and advice for State services

Due to its in-depth knowledge on environments, Onema is often contacted for advice. Above all for the preparation of documents containing declarations or authorisation requests for projects. Onema provides technical opinions on the status of the aquatic environment prior to the project, on the potential impact of the project on the quality of the aquatic environment, and on any requirements or compensatory measures to prevent, reduce or compensate the impact. Concerning policing of fishing activities, the opinion of Onema may be requested on general practices, on exceptional authorisations and on the management of protected or invasive species. Finally, Onema can offer its know-how in priority projects concerning the identification of the spawning, feeding and reproductive zones of fish, in rivers and wetlands. For the implementation of the European directive, it provides technical support in evaluating water bodies, setting up surveillance networks, undertaking an economic evaluation of water uses and assessing environmental damage.

Common strategy for inspections by State services and Onema

On the level of each French department, Onema is intimately involved via the MISE (Inter-service water group) in drafting the inspection programme. The programme sets inspection priorities based on in-depth analysis of the risks of illegal activities given local conditions and requirements in terms of good ecological status. It applies to the activities of all the services involved in water-policing activities. Each department is thus covered by a specific inspection programme drafted taking into account local criteria, essentially concerning the geography, hydromorphology, environmental sensitivity and fragility, the impact of installations, construction, work and developments. The Onema departmental manager then sets up the detailed programmes for inspection operations, i.e. dates, precise objects or zones to be inspected, the responsible person, etc.

The strategic inspection guidelines contained in this programme constitute the technical foundation of the policing activity at Onema. That does not exclude inspections on request by State prosecutors, notably to assess any damage caused and to determine the necessary corrective measures.

Some 600 Onema technicians carry out field inspections with partners

For maximum effectiveness, inspection operations such as noting the diversion of a river due to work, application of pesticides near rivers or the non-conformity of releases from water-treatment plants are carried out in a highly coordinated manner between the water police from the local DDEA (public-works and agricultural agency) and the local Onema office. When the stakes are high, teams of people from different services are set up. For example, an Onema technician and an agent from the water police join forces to inspect a hydroelectric station, a representative of the Departmental veterinary service and an Onema expert work together on a fish farm, and for certain difficult operations involving organised poaching, Onema sets up a team with the Gendarmerie (rural police force) and the National agency for hunting and wildlife, or with the Maritime agency for poaching in estuaries. At Onema, approximately 600 technicians in the local offices carry out inspection activities that are managed by the regional offices. They must also check that any recommendations are effectively implemented. Monitoring of inspection activities has been established with the State prosecutors. It covers primarily the priorities in the inspection programme, the means by which offences are handled, e.g. fines which are intended to put an end to offences and obtain, if necessary, a return to the status quo ante without launching legal proceedings, and finally the establishment of a simplified fine system. During legal proceedings, Onema experts may also testify.

Support during crisis management

In the event of a crisis concerning water and aquatic environments, the experts from Onema can be called in for crisis management. For example, if the flow rate in a river drops, Onema can be contacted by the MISE to set up an observation system. Similarly, if flooding occurs, the agency can assist in analysing the damage to aquatic environments and advise local stakeholders on restoration efforts in order to reduce the impacts on aquatic environments.

Inspections on zones not treated with pesticides along rivers

Inspections on zones not treated (ZNT) with pesticides along rivers is one of the priorities at Onema. In the territory managed by the North-East regional office and in conjunction with plant-protection services, the Moselle, Bas-Rhin and Aube departments were selected as test zones for inspections on water bodies designated as priority zones for achieving good ecological status or classified as fragile given the activities in the river basin. The test inspections coordinated between the services were carried out over a total estimated length of 100 kilometres along rivers. For example, in the Aube department, 22 technicians from various local Onema offices (Aube, Haute Marne, Marne), the North-East regional office, DDEA (public-works and agricultural agency), the regional plant-protection service and the National agency for hunting and wildlife took part in an inspection operation in the Sarce basin. Following the inspections, a map of zones where offences were noted was drawn up. Efforts will be made to inform farmers, towns or other persons concerned by ZNTs in conjunction with the regional plant-protection service and the DDEA. This project is perceived primarily as a means to provide preliminary information and raise awareness. However, any manifest offences that damage the river and its wildlife are treated more severely.