14th August 1976

Jersey declares a state of emergency

The long, hot summer of 1976 caused droughts across Britain, Europe and the Channel Islands and, on 14 August, Jersey finally declared a state of emergency. Both bread and water were rationed within three days.

Water was already being rationed in Guernsey, but Jersey had managed to delay following its lead thanks to its desalination plant, which was processing seawater to produce 1.5 million gallons of fresh water every day. According to the Birmingham Post of 17 August, “this is unable to keep up with the 22 million gallons a week used by Jersey”. Guernsey’s own short-lived desalination plant was still some way off.

Water torture

On the 17th, the Daily Mirror, under the headline “Water Torture”, reported that “a glimpse of the hardships that could face the rest of Britain was provided by Jersey on its first day of water cutbacks. Already the island is threatened with bread rationing and short-time working. Schools, sports centres, light industry and office blocks have all had water cuts of 40 per cent.”

The summer of 1976 wasn’t the first time Jersey had experienced serious drought – nor the last. The summer of 1989 was also unusually dry and led to the declaration of another state of emergency by the Lieutenant Governor. However, as the President of the Public Works Committee reported to the States Assembly, “in 1976, the only statutory control was to ban the use of private supplies [of water] for use in automatic car washing apparatus. A very successful attempt was made by negotiation to limit abstractions by land owners of water that was within the catchment areas to the reservoirs to that quantity required for strictly essential purposes.”

Natural water sources

However, the key difference between the drought of 1989 and that of 1976 was that by 1989 a lot of new bore holes had been drilled throughout the island for both domestic and commercial use, which reduced the amount of water in underground streams that could reach the island’s reservoirs. Stricter measures therefore needed to be implemented, restricting the irrigation of land to between 11pm and 3am. As well as reducing the number of people who would irrigate, the fact that it was cooler during these hours meant that less water would be lost to evaporation.

Unfortunately, very little rain fell for at least another month in 1989 and, in mid-September, the States Assembly was once again debating the state of emergency.

Unlikely to run dry

The President of the Public Works Committee reported than the Jersey New Waterworks Company’s reservoirs had 126 million gallons of water in storage which, with consumption running at around 3.2 million gallons a day, was sufficient to last for the foreseeable future. However, “if the dry weather continues, then the need to introduce greater restrictions may arise”. Thus, the President requested that the state of emergency be renewed for a further 30 days. “I must stress the need to maintain at least the present level of economy in water consumption [or] the volume of water in store will, in a matter of days, have fallen below the 1976 level”.

As the world gets hotter, it seems likely that such measures will need to be taken more often in the future, and that 1976 will be seen less as an anomaly, and more as a warning of things to come.


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Other events that occured in August