Water as a common treasury

Nowadays, the biggest contemporary challenge is the preservation of the environment, aiming at maintaining balanced ecosystems and tackling climate change and waste. Not surprisingly, these topics have become focal in legal debates considering the cross-disciplinary characteristic of law and its critical role in regulating ecological issues. Environmental layers therefore, need not only the legal knowledge but the understanding of political, scientific and social issues linked. At the same time, corporations and privates need to understand the structure and content of environmental law.

The central regulatory and ecological problems are not merely preventing or controlling dangerous substances from entering the natural water environment. The traditional U.K. approach to water quality has been to preserve the view that the question should not be regarding which substances should be stopped from entering water because a large variety of substances can have a detrimental effect on water quality in enough quantities. For instance, there has been a successful prosecution due to a spill of carbonated apple juice and milk which had a polluting effect around three hundred times that of sewage. This to demonstrate that water quality regulation concerns the discharge of substances that are not inherently toxic but which might cause harmful effects depending on the quantity and location of the discharge.

The counterpart is that water pollution occurs only where waters become unfit for desirable drinking, supply or fishing. Nevertheless the main water pollution offence of causing damage matter to enter controlled waters does not necessitate genuine harm. The law therefore, tends to pursue the insurance of a particular quality of water for different purposes, instead of only preventing or minimising the entry of pollutants. This moreover allows for natural differences in the composition of water, and for rate and flow considered. However, legally there is a preference for target standards based on the character of the receiving environment, instead of the adoption of emission standards reducing specific damaging substances from water bodies. This approach, however has been followed in EU water Directives. With the notion that official permission is not essentially required before substances are discharged, the essential purpose of an environmental permit issued by the Environmental Agency becomes a defence to any charge of polluting water.

This nature of water permits has many implications. Most importantly, is that the setting of permits, and the adoption of standards such as Best Available Techniques (BAT) to minimise contamination has not been compulsory. It can be argued that an adoption of such standards could lead to over regulation, nevertheless environmental permits do not strictly encourage a progressive narrowing of standards unless this is required by EU water laws. However, severe water quality goals have never been preferred, on the other hand discharge consents tend to be enforced on individual basis; considering the quality of the water body and its location for public use. This shows how the water approach uses environmental permitting. What can become a challenge is the increasing contribution of diffuse sources such as as agricultural run- off and pollution from urban development and vehicle emissions, to reductions in water quality. These diffuse sources cannot be controlled by permits and instead need an imaginative mix of policies.

The argument for treating water as a common treasury argues against the argument of regarding water as a commodity and using civil law in its management. The European Citizen’s Initiative, a tool to change the mindset of the European Commission to a shift from the market based approach to a human right approach, aims at safeguarding the right to water and sanitation for current and future generations. Nevertheless, the initiative requires the implementation of pricing policies as an incentive to use water more efficiently. Moreover, it also requires cost recovery for water services. The common treasury argument serves the notion of treating water as a precious and unique element owned by all. However, with this notion it is important to identify the use and management. Common treasury does not mean favouring the private property model provided by the public trusts, stewardship, the third sector or the market mechanism. On the contrary, it favours the collaborative and cooperative model of a communal resource management for the collective benefit, which operates under regulatory frameworks.