Water management in France: organization, stakeholders and responsibilities

The definition and implementation of a water policy involves a great many stakeholders. Public authorities, local and regional authorities, management structures, economic stakeholders, associations ... make concerted decisions at several levels: Europe, State, hydrographic basins, regions, departments and between communes. The simplified explanation below gives details of the responsibilities of each group of stakeholders.


The European Union’s commitment to improving water quality took concrete form in the European Framework Directive on Water (DCE) of 23 October 2000, transposed into French law by the Water and Marine Environments Law (LEMA) of 30 December 2006. This regulatory framework set ambitious objectives for achieving good water quality and strengthens national policies.


At national level

Drawing up a national water policy in line with European Directives.
The Water and Biodiversity Division (DEB) of the Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs defines and organizes State interventions on water, in liaison with the ministries with jurisdiction for water usages (health, agriculture, etc.).

Since 1st January 2017, the Onema (National Water and Aquatic Environment Office) has been an integral part of the French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB), responsible at national level for surveillance, control of usages, knowledge and information, working closely with water agencies. 

At basin level

Definition and implementation of the regulations and monitoring to ensure they are respected (water and fisheries police).
The Prefects who coordinate the basin are responsible for coordinating action on water by State departments at basin level. They approve master development and water management plans (SDAGE) drawn up by basin committees. They adopt action programs.

At regional or departmental level

Implementation of the regulations and monitoring to ensure they are respected
Decentralized governmental departments under the authority of the Prefects implement the regulatory and technical aspects of State policy:

  • Regional Directorates for the Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL);

  • Regional Health Agencies (ARS) - drinking and bathing water quality

  • Departmental Directorates of the Territories (DDT).


The basin committee

Planning (SDAGE) and water policy at basin level
At hydrographic basin level, the basin committee includes water stakeholders representing local and regional authorities, the State and economic and voluntary sector users.
The basin committee acts within the framework set up by national and European water management policies, defining major orientations for water in the basin.

The water agency

Financial incentives (water rates and aid)
The water agency’s responsibility is to use its expertise in water to serve local and regional authorities and economic and agricultural stakeholders, helping them to use water rationally and to fight against pollution and degradation of aquatic environments. It acts alongside governmental departments and collaborates with departmental and regional councils.


Regions and departments

They link land planning and water policy through funding
Regional and departmental councils can provide technical and financial support to local authorities.

Intercommunal authorities

GEMAPI Implementation
From 2018 onwards, Public Establishments for Intercommunal Cooperation (EPCI) with taxation powers (communities of municipalities, communities of conurbations, metropolitan councils and urban communities) will be designated project leaders by law for the management of aquatic environments and flood prevention. They may transfer this jurisdiction to drainage basin management structures such as Public Regional Basin Establishments (EPTR) or Public Planning and Water Management Establishments (EPAGE)

Water and Treatment

Up until 2020, the commune will have legal jurisdiction for water and treatment. It can organize this on an intercommunal basis by transferring the jurisdiction to a water and treatment syndicate, or an EPCI with taxation powers may exercise the jurisdiction. The body responsible for water and treatment services oversees:

  • drinking water distribution and the collection and treatment of waste water in its commune;

  • investment decisions, for which it may benefit from technical and financial support from the water agency and/or the region and/or the department;

  • the choice of management method, which may be entrusted to municipal departments or syndicates (utilities), or to private industrial groups (Suez, Véolia, SAUR, etc.).

From 2020 onwards, communes will no longer have jurisdiction for water and treatment as of right. This will be transferred to EPCI with taxation powers.

Management by drainage basin

Management structures (rivers, drainage basins, groundwater…) are organized as inter-communal or mixed syndicates combining communes, EPCI with taxation powers, departments or regions.
They may have GEMAPI jurisdiction, if the EPCI with taxation powers transfer this to them, and be recognized as EPTB or EPAGE.
These structures coordinate or implement aquatic environment management policies, bringing together all stakeholders from their territory and using Water Planning and Management Schemes (SAGE), environmental contracts, etc.


Project Leadership
Industrialists and farmers…are responsible for the construction and management of their de-pollution and sampling facilities, for which they can obtain technical and financial support from the water agency.

Consultation and proposals

Users, consumers’ and environmental protection associations, and professional federations…are involved with planning and management decisions through their representation within structures such as the basin committee, local water commissions (CLE) and river committees, alongside local and national government departments.
These stakeholders develop their own actions for research, awareness-raising and communication.