Jersey: laying down the law
Gerry Jackson tells WWT his responsibilities as Jersey’s water regulator
Headed up by manager and regulator, Gerry Jackson, the Water Resources (WR) section of the Public Services Department (PSD) was formed to protect and enhance the quality of the island’s aquatic environment. Its functions are extensive, and include:
The first piece of legislation aimed at enhancing water quality was developed from 1993-94 onwards. “We set up a specialist team of about four people, one of these was an environmental lawyer from the UK who had worked for the National Rivers Authority,” explains Gerry Jackson. “We got a draft together and consulted on it for a long time, particularly with the farming community. Eventually we got a law that we think is working very well.”
Jackson is referring to the Water Pollution (Jersey) Law, which came into effect on November 27, 2000. To enforce the law his department became a regulatory body, as opposed to an advisory one.
The enactment of the law has provided a mechanism to tackle point-source and diffuse pollution. The legislation also follows the Water Framework Directive in that the island has been divided into catchment management areas. To date, WR has made six successful prosecutions. Despite disappointingly low fines, the local media has raised awareness of who the polluters are.
Jackson’s regulatory position is the equivalent of the UK’s Environment Agency (EA), the difference being the department is not independent. “Indeed we are in the same department as the operator,” says Jackson. “We have had some criticism that its like gamekeeper/poacher.”
In order to alleviate some of the problems arising from this situation, the attorney general insists pollution incidents caused by PSD activities must be handed over to law officers. In all other cases the department can show some discretion when deciding which cases are taken to court. In addition, the government structure in Jersey is shifting. “The government is changing to a ministerial system over the next two or three years,” says Jackson. “Certainly one of the aims is to separate the regulator and operator, as you have done in the UK.”
The Water Pollution Law introduces a precautionary and polluter pays principle, which is having a positive impact on the island. “We are dealing with about 160 pollution incidents a year,” claims Jackson. “If you look at the population equivalent its about four-times the UK rate. A lot of them are along the same scale as the UK. We don’t have industry, so we don’t have major pollution incidents, but we have lots of oil spills from domestic and commercial tanks.
“The [Water Pollution] law wasn’t necessarily brought in to regulate the sewage undertaker, it was a general feeling to improve water quality on the island.”
Although the sewage undertaker is liable under the law, Jersey had a record of excellence in effluent discharge quality pre November 2000. The ‘legislation drives environmental improvement’ theory does not apply where the island is concerned. Preserving the natural environment was the driver.
During the 1990s Jersey was at the forefront of bathing water quality improvements. The island’s UV plant came on-line in 1992, the first in Europe. People flew in from the UK, Spain, France and Germany to observe the new unit. “We decided the open-channel system was the way forward in terms of maintenance. We went for the Trojan system because it had been proven in north-America,” explains Jackson. “In the first few years of monitoring, Jersey was achieving effluent qualities cleaner than the sea we were putting the stuff into.”
UV treatment combined with the island’s huge tidal ranges enables 100% compliance with the imperative standard of the European directive, and 11 out of 15 sites also achieve guide standard. Despite this, Jersey is not a subscriber of the Blue Flag scheme. “Jersey takes pride in the cleanliness of its beaches, but we felt unable to fulfil all the criteria required to meet the Blue Flag award, particularly the part relating to a total dog ban,” explains Nigel Philpot, quality development director with Jersey Tourism.
During 1994-95 Jersey developed health-related standards for bathing waters. Instead of a simple pass/fail as currently applied by the EU, the island graded beaches into excellent, good, or medium water quality. This gave bathers a defined risk of contracting gastro-enteritis. The standards were published and presented to the World Health Organisation, which took up the approach.
“We were looking at the distribution of bacteria in sea water and working very closely with the Centre for Research into Environment and Health (CREH),” says Jackson. Although Jersey is not bound by EU law, The States’ policy is to meet EU standards wherever possible. The CREH, based at the University of Wales, is currently working to help implement the provisions of the Water Framework Directive. Jackson hopes the island will be the first to achieve this. “Whereas the implementation time is 15 years in Europe, we think we can do it in 5-10 years,” he claims.
The money to implement the directive has come from the island’s Central Environment Fund, which is administered by the Planning and Environment Commission. The contract went out to tender to 14 consultancies for expressions of interest. Four were shortlisted. CREH won the contract because of its scientific experience and knowledge of Jersey. The CREH is headed by Professor David Kay and the manager of the project in Jersey, Dr Norman Lowe. Over an 18-month period they will monitor all the water resources of the island, including surface water, ground water and marine waters, and ultimately set water quality objectives. The final report is due by Christmas 2003.
If new management techniques are recommended at the end of the study period, a legal process will follow. Persuading island inhabintants of the need for further legislation may be the PSD’s toughest challenge. Jersey has no history of regulation and there is often resistance. Jackson says, “There is a general feeling that society here is too regulated – it used to be a fun place, now we’ve got all these rules.”
Some people question the need for legislation, believing the PSD’s environmental strategy has been satisfactory. But Jersey is undergoing a period of change and a harsher economic climate has led to a shift form self-regulation to legislation set by The States. Jackson believes the time is right for a complete rethink. Further legislation is being drafted, such as the Water Resources Law, which will help monitor and regulate abstraction and impoundment.
“The Water Resources Law may be a matter of contention in Jersey,.” Jackson warns. “We think some 10% of the population are on private boreholes or water supplies. Registering your borehole or obtaining an abstraction licence is not a current requirement, but will be introduced under the new law.
“Domestic users will have to register boreholes, but will not need a licence.
Commercial users, of which there are approximately 150, will need licences. “We hope to get [the law] passed late 2003 and it will compliment the Water Pollution Law. We have set-up an inter-departmental group called the Water Resources Steering Group, which is a mixture of politicians and senior scientific officers. We’ve got a bit of joined-up government really driving the process forward. Agriculture and fisheries, planning and environment, central government, PSD and the water company are all working together,” Jackson explains.
There is a reluctance to simply take UK law and apply it to Jersey. The island defends its independence and Jersey laws directly address domestic issues. For example, pollution is a strict liability offence, as in the UK, but the Water Pollution (Jersey) Law includes a defence of due diligence. “Without this defence, people are frightened of making decisions to pollute a little, for the greater good of the longer term,” claims Jackson. “Following the Braer and Sea Empress disasters, Lord Donaldson’s report recommended that due diligence be introduced into UK legislation.”
Jersey’s emergency defence also goes one step further. “In our law it is wider, including threat to animals or property,” says Jackson, who uses the example of a fire at the island’s zoo for endangered species to illustrate his point. “I’ve heard of some cases in the UK where fireman would not put out a fire in case of pollution. In Jersey it would be an emergency defence because you could argue the animals were at threat.”
Protecting the quantity and quality of natural resources is a priority and it is expected meeting all Jersey’s planned objectives will involve significant investment and education over the next few years