Who is involved in a river restoration project?

The French water policy is defined and coordinated at the national level, and transposes the European Community water policy. But its planning is organised at the level of river basins, unit of water management which follows the geographical territory of the resource and not the administrative boundaries. A local implementation of the water policy is also ensured by territorial communities. A presentation of the main actors involved in WFD implementation in France is available in the Water policy section on the European Directive Implementation page.

For each level of water management, different organisations have specific roles to play in implementing a river restoration project. A number of other stakeholders may participate in restoration projects for aquatic environments. They can take part in project implementation, its validation, in enforcing regulatory procedures or they may simply wish to be involved in a modification affecting their area with the corresponding problems and opportunities created by the project.


National level

The OFB is the State’s central operator for terrestrial, aquatic and marine biodiversity in Metropolitan and French Overseas territories. Fully operational since 2020, it brought together diffrent institutions following two successive mergers in 2017 and 2020: the National Hunting and Wildflife Agency (ONCFS), the National Agency for Water and Aquatic Environments (Onema), the Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP), the National Parks of France (PNF) and the Technical Workshop for Natural Areas (ATEN). In particular, OFB carries awareness-raising actions and provides technical advice to State services on the potential impact of new installations, works and development of activities on rivers. It also ensures compliance with regulations governing use of water and aquatic environments and reports any observed offences. The Agency is involved in the implementation and the monitoring of European framework directives related to the good ecological status of aquatic environments (WFD) and to the protection of species and habitats of community interest (Natura 2000).

AFB promotes research and innovation by guiding and supporting R&D projects, organizing calls for proposals, or building partnerships. The Agency develops tools with its partners (technical manuals, protocols…), allowing them to provide support to ensure that ecological issues are increasingly taken into account in planning documents and to assist restoration operations.               


River basin level

The Water agencies are public entities supervised by the Ecology ministry that provide funding and technical assistance to public and private owners of installations in carrying out works foreseen by the agencies' multi-year work programmes, including efforts against water pollution and protection and restoration of water resources and aquatic environments. They may also manage projects to restore river continuity following agreement with the owners, thus avoiding lengthy administrative procedures.

The Water offices in the overseas territories are the equivalent of the Water agencies in continental France.


Local level

The DREALs oversee application of European directives on water, monitor compliance of regulated installations with respect to the Environmental code and run continuous measurements on the flow rates and biological quality of rivers.

In the overseas territories, these tasks are carried out by the DEALs (departmental directorates for the environment).  


  • Departmental Territorial and Maritime Directorates (DDT-Ms)

 The DDT-Ms are in charge of the administrative water police in each department. They inform and assist water users in the preliminary stages of projects and encourage local governments to undertake operations to restore river continuity and hydromorphology.

The directorates, offering considerable technical know-how, ensure the coordination of State policies on the departmental level in the fields of water, aquatic environments and nature in general.


  • Local authorities and their associations

Local governments in France are administrative structures that are responsible for policy implementation in a given part of the country. They include the towns, departments and regions.

To manage water issues in their area, local governments may group together and form intermunicipal boards grouping a number of towns (e.g. a river board) or joint boards that include at least one public entity or a department or a region (e.g. an EPTB, a public agency for intermunicipal cooperation). These boards could be relevant managers for river restoration projects because they cover areas that are often congruent with hydrographic units.

The tasks of river boards range from riverbed management to the operation and maintenance of existing hydraulic structures, including management of riparian vegetation and upkeep of side channels and wetlands. In particular, boards can initiate studies and projects when no other suitable local structures exist. They are authorised to intervene on both public and private land.


  • Other local stakeholders

Structure and land owners, whether public or private, may initiate projects on their property and at their own cost. They may also group together to form an authorised board association (ASA - Association Syndicale Autorisée) to carry out work in the general interest defined in the association charter within a specified area and on the basis of a joint budget. The ASA may receive public subsidies and may delegate project management to other public entities. Though poorly suited for larger operations spanning an entire river basin, an ASA may be brought into a project as a relay for consultations with owners.


Associations for migratory fish, fishing federations and certified associations for fishing and the protection of aquatic environments may manage projects or undertake work in the framework of their mission to protect fish and aquatic environments, e.g. restoration of fish habitats, creation and monitoring of fish passes, protection and restoration of spawning grounds, etc.       


  • Stakeholders network

Networks of stakeholders involved in overall management of aquatic environments have been progressively set up around the country to encourage the emergence of local projects and also to facilitate the dissemination of information, know-how and experience. Special technical management and technical assistance and monitoring groups (CATER - Cellule d'Assistance Technique à l'Entretien des Rivières and ASTER - Assistance et Suivi Technique à l'Entretien des Rivières) have also been set up in certain departments to provide technical support to local governments implementing river restoration and maintenance projects.