The France-Geneva Basin
There are, for example, no less than five of these contracts in the France-Geneva Basin, which is irrigated by a large number of watercourses. Each contract is signed between the Canton of Geneva and the partners concerned on the French side (the government, region, department, water agencies, etc.). At the local level, this cooperation has been formalised by the signature of a cross-border agreement regarding the management of water and the aquatic environment between the players in the cross-border conurbation of Greater Geneva.
More information: The cross-border river contract between Arve and Rhône [FR].
In September 2015, the French Department of Ain and the Canton of Geneva concluded a memorandum of understanding laying down a provision for the cross-border management of the upper Rhone sediment. This document consolidates the work of the French-Swiss technical committee established in 2012, and outlines management procedures for the coming decade. To ensure the safety of local residents during flooding, the management structure takes into account both the socio-economic interests of the different stakeholders and the requirement to preserve the environment. Via this coordinated and concerted sediment management program, French and Swiss authorities are able to ensure the safety of populations living near to the Rhone in the event of heavy flooding, such as that seen in Arve at the beginning of May 2015 (La Voix de l’Ain, September 11th 2015).
Document: Analysis of factors contributing to the new emergence of water governance: the case of the French river Rhône. Christian Brethaut, Cahiers de Vallesia n°29, 2015 [FR]
The Upper Rhine
Another emblematic and pioneering example of cross-border cooperation in this area is the management of the Rhine along the French-German border. 1320 km long and with a catchment area of 185,000 km2, the Rhine is part of a huge International Hydrographic District and is the subject of an International River Protection Commission, which since 1950 has brought together the environment ministers of the countries through which the river passes. The first convention, which was signed in 1963, formalised actions to combat pollution, which is a major and chronic problem for this waterway that is the most heavily used in Europe.
Following on from the Rhine Action Programme that was implemented between 1987 and 2000, an overall “Rhine 2020” programme for the sustainable development of the river was adopted by the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine. This programme combines ecological concerns with those relating to flood prevention and protection of surface water and groundwater in the Rhine area up to 2020.
In addition to this programme, many projects have been carried out along the course of the Rhine, notably relating to the protection of the water-table. For example, the LOGAR project (Liaison opérationnelle pour la gestion de l'aquifère rhénan – Operational liaison for management of the Rhine aquifer) aims to improve the state of the Rhine’s water-table (with one third of the water contained in it having deteriorated according to a study published in 2009) and to put in place a cross-border management tool.
Bi-lateral measures for management of the French-Swiss river Doubs
The Doubs is a frontier of 45 km between France and Switzerland. This watershed presents great biological potential, a low urban density and a limited human occupation.
To better understand the issues (impact of three, hydroelectric dams, sensitivity of water quality alterations and high mortality of fish populations in 2010-2011, many breakdown of ecological continuity), the following new institutions were put in place in 2011 to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach:
- A Joint Committee manages the harmonization of provisions related to fishing and protecting fish.
- The working group, “Flow Management” (2011), improves the management of hydroelectric installations and their impacts (co-chaired by DREAL and OFEN).
- The working group, “Quality of Water and Aquatic Environments” (2011), works on water quality, protection of species, and river morphology, and is supported by the technical secretariat and managed by EPTB Saone et Doubs (Local Public Basin Establishments). It meets twice per year on average (it is co-chaired by the Doubs DDT and the OFEV).
In early 2014 the latter has presented an action plan including measures to clean up the Doubs River and to reduce the impact of human activities on the basin:
- Improving the physical-chemical water quality by reducing fluxes in pollution levels regardless of their origin, and addressing general and individual sanitation.
- Restoring ecological continuity (including the fishery sector) of the Doubs’ morphology and that of its tributaries.
- Monitoring the evolution of the Doubs through shared trans-border management and finding an appropriate method for using data.
This action plan has been converted into concrete actions that address the modernisation of wastewater treatment in France and Switzerland, four of the thirteen deletion thresholds or dams obstructing the movement of fish, and the connectivity of the Doubs tributary improvement programme. The action plan also includes two studies that synthesise data regarding Doubs water quality data, and research technical solutions for fish migration issues.
Other examples on French borders
Cross-border cooperation in this area also makes it possible to address the issue of enhancing the natural heritage of a territory. An example of this is the “Bande Bleue”(“blue strip”) project supported by the SaarMoselle Eurodistrict, which aims to develop the use of the Saar through the development of the banks of the river; others are the projects sponsored by the SMEAG (Syndicat Mixte d’Etudes et d’Aménagement de la Garonne – the Garonne cross-border association) along the French-Spanish border.
The Garonne Valley is indeed the subject of dynamic cross-border cooperation, notably through the implementation of the project entitled “the Garonne Valley, a cross-border territory”. This project includes:
- the creation of a cross-border Natura 2000 site, which aims to preserve biodiversity and to link up the Garonne with other European sites as part of a network;
- the establishment of a cross-border Observatory in order to centralise all of the available data on the river;
- the drawing-up of a blueprint for the management of floating waste on the river;
- the development of the Plan d’Arrem site, a historic site on the Garonne.
The Garonne Valley is also part of transnational projects like “Sud’eau 2” which led to the creation of a toolkit good water management practices by the SMEAG or “Territoires Fluviaux Européens” project (TFE – European River Territories) closed in June 2014, which aims to carry out an assessment for the whole of the territory in order to allow the implementation of objectives such as the hydrological development of floodplains, the preservation of the eco-functionalities of natural spaces and the establishment of a “green and blue belt”, a key objective of France’s “Grenelle” summit on the environment which is aimed at rebuilding a network of exchanges with a view to protecting biodiversity.
Other European projects have influenced the quality of water on the French-Spanish border such as the BIDUR project in the cross-border Bidassoa area or the GURATRANS project for river management west of the Pyrenees.
The Eurometropolis Lille - Kortrijk - Tournai is also devoting a key component of its 2014-2020 strategy to Eurometropole Blue and Green, which focuses on the requalification of water. The local Dostrade project covers the Escaut Valley and the transnational ScaldWIN project (Netherlands, Belgium, France) improves surface water and ground water quality in the Sheldt international river basin district.
In March 2016 the Eurometropolis Lille - Kortrijk - Tournai Blue Space programme was launched. It is a trans-border and participatory initiative that focuses on water use in all its forms and promotes dialogue and collaboration between political and technical actors, associations, and citizens with the aim of valuing, proposing, and realising innovative actions. The programme includes the creation of a collaborative atlas that indicates stakeholders, a project that concerns local water activities in 147 euro-metropolitan cities, and a large water festival.
The issue of the quality of water resources, whether surface water or groundwater, is also at the heart of the cross-border environmental cooperation for the Danube. The Danube’s particular situation as an atypical and international river since it flows through ten European countries from East to West, as well as its unusual features (for example its regular freezing-over and flood management) have made this cross-border collaboration as complex as it is necessary. The cooperation between these countries on the Environmental Programme for the Danube River Basin (EPDRB), which was initiated in 1991, resulted on 29 June 1994 in the signature of the Danube River Protection Convention (DRPC) in Sofia (Bulgaria). It came into force in 1998 and commits the 11 signatory countries, which were subsequently joined by Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, to work for the restoration and fair and sustainable management of the Danube Basin while also establishing the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). The European Union, which was the DRPC’s twelfth signatory, actively supports the cross-border cooperation in this region. In 2001, it thus decided to set up the DABLAS Task Force in orderto ensure an efficient coordination of activities between cross-border countries and a balanced funding distribution.
Moreover, expert teams have been appointed by the European Commission’s Water Directive (see the rubric “The main issues”). The stakes of the cross-border collaboration related to water area management is higher for the area near the Black Sea, into which the river flows, as it is regarded as highly polluted.
The protected areas near the Danube have been structured by the association DANUBEPARKS which is active in the restoration of river housing and the management of flood plains on the Danube.
European Strategy for the Danube Region
To face together challenges, the European Commission developed a macro-regional strategy for the Danube region in consultation with the regional authorities and the stakeholders. The strategy was approved by the European Council on April 13th 2011. It aims to create synergies and give impetus for coordination between existing policies and the initiatives implemented in the Danube region. This support thereby facilitates cooperation in the sectors directly concerned by the river, such as transport, protection of the environment, economic development and security.
Examples of projects:
- The Clean Rivers Operation (see page 7), which carries out pollution clean-up measures in the five border regions on the Danube, illustrates the cooperation between Hungary and Romania concerning water conservation.
- The construction of a second bridge between Bulgaria and Romania (see the Calafat-Vidin conurbation factsheet) will permit the opening of a route linking Northern Europe with Central and Eastern Europe.
- The "Also Danube" project was centred on promoting the use of inland waterways for transport, focusing on the Danube.
Photo : Shutterstock / SF Photo