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Inspections, a prime tool in implementing water policy

In the Blueprint, the European commission stated that there would be no new European legislation on water (except concerning water reuse), thus highlighting the importance of "making full use of the possibilities offered by current laws". The commission thus confirmed the central role played by inspections in the effective implementation of laws and it plans to take the necessary measures to have inspections reinforced in the Member States.

The focus on inspections as a prime tool in implementing water policy resulted in France in the ordinance on the environmental police (see the article on page 3) that entered into force on 1 July 2013. The ordinance simplifies and unifies inspection procedures, creates the rank of environmental inspector and reinforces criminal penalties.

Almost 23 000 inspections each year

To ensure compliance with regulations on water usage and the preservation of aquatic environments, Onema personnel run inspections in conjunction with the State prosecutors. In 2012, they carried out almost 23 000 inspections, including 29% concerning private persons, 24% local governments, 2% farmers, 10% industrial companies and 10% other sectors, i.e. a total of 47% concerning economic activities. The results were in compliance with regulations 60% of the time, on average. But "of the 5 618 offences resulting in a citation in 2012, almost 90% concerned serious violations of the law. This shows that Onema personnel active in the field must deal with serious situations where a great deal is at stake", notes Pascale Boizard, the head of inspections at Onema.

During the second WFD management cycle, one of the major issues for the new set of programmes of measures will be better integration of inspections. Better knowledge on the reasons why good status has not been reached will serve to guide inspection strategies. "We have made great progress in our proposals to the State concerning inspection strategies by delimiting high-stakes territories in which our monitoring and inspection work is the most relevant and effective in terms of restoring environmental quality and of avoiding harm to water bodies with good status."

"The unification and modernisation of the environmental police forces should contribute to improved implementation and effectiveness of inspections. But the penalties, sufficiently dissuasive and tailored to the offences, must also be applied quickly and effectively", insists Pascale Boizard. "When intentional damage or serious negligence is reported by Onema personnel, the judicial reaction be rapid, in cooperation with the State prosecutor. Similar to our participation in devising the technical conditions for a more robust and effective inspection strategy, we must now formulate a post-inspection strategy."

"Our personnel, now called environmental inspectors, are one link in the chain of participants ranging from the State services defining the work of the environmental police to the courts. The upcoming instructions from the Justice ministry on environmental criminal policy will reinforce the guidelines issued by the Prime minister on the ecological transition."

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