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Partnership to reduce nitrates in water

02 June 2015

Efforts to reduce the levels of nitrates in Jersey waters are to be stepped up following a partnership between the States, Jersey Water and the Island’s farmers.

They are working together to raise awareness of the impact of nitrates on water supplies in Jersey and to identify what can be done to get levels down to a more acceptable level.

Deputy Steve Luce has written to farmers and businesses connected to land management, asking them to make a concerted effort to tackle nitrates.

Joint efforts

Nitrate levels in many surface and ground waters in Jersey can be regularly above the recommended maximum level of 50 milligrams per litre, but more recently have started to come down as a result of joint efforts to tackle the problem by the Department of the Environment and the agricultural industry.

The main source of high nitrate concentrations in surface and groundwater is inorganic fertiliser used for agriculture and other land management activities. Other sources include animals, domestic sewage, and organic manures applied to land.

Representatives from States departments, Jersey Water, and the agricultural sector have formed a working group to discuss how to further reduce nitrate concentrations in water. Their recommendations will form part of two related reports due out later this year – the Rural Economy Strategy and the Water Strategy, both of which are in preparation and will span the period from 2016-2020.

Reduce nitrogen 'budget'

However, Deputy Luce wants to see change happen more quickly. In his letter, the Minister has asked land managers, who will shortly be considering their fertiliser requirements for next year, to think how they can reduce their nitrogen ‘budget’ – with the aim of achieving a 5 to 10 per cent cut.

The Minister said “Despite the work that’s already been done, nitrates levels are not quite coming down quickly enough and the situation’s not sustainable. Private and public drinking water supplies, recreational water use, fisheries and shellfish production, and of course the ‘green weed’ problem are all affected by nitrates levels.

“If we can’t reduce the amount of nitrate in our streams more quickly, I can see a point in the not too distant future where I will have no option other than to take action, and that’s not something I want to do.”

Deputy Luce added “I’d like to think I have a good working relationship with the farming community and I’m confident that by working together we can resolve these difficult issues.” 

Jersey Water’s Chief Executive, Helier Smith, commented “We firmly endorse the message from the Minister that nitrate levels in our streams and waterways need to be reduced as quickly as possible.

“As an Island, we need to be acutely sensitive to the impact that our activities can have on the quality of the water resources we all rely on so heavily.  Steps to reduce nitrate pollution will improve water quality in both private and public water supplies and benefit the whole community in the long term.  It is encouraging to see the commitment from the farming community and the States of Jersey to hopefully resolve this long running issue.”  

Water quality

President of the Jersey Farmers’ Union Graham Le Lay, said “The Jersey Farmers’ Union has been pleased to have representatives on the Nitrate Working Party where frank discussions between all parties have helped in analysing the core problems with water quality in Jersey.

“The Jersey Farmers’ Union has worked closely with the Department of the Environment to reduce nitrate fertiliser application. This has been successful and is borne out by the fact that although the potato area has increased considerably in recent years, the level of nitrates in both surface and ground water has dropped significantly.

“The Environment Minister can rest assured that the Jersey Farmers’ Union will continue to encourage and assist farmers in finding ways to reduce nitrate fertiliser use but would urge him to take immediate steps to make all land users aware that they too have to reduce their use of both inorganic and organic fertilisers on their allotments, vegetable gardens and lawns.”

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