EPA public consultation: National Inspection Plan for Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems discussion document

Date released: Oct 11 2012

Recent legislation requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a National Inspection Plan for domestic waste water treatment systems, including septic tanks. 

The Inspection Plan is currently being developed and it is intended that a risk-based approach to inspections will commence in mid-2013. In the interim, the EPA is consulting and engaging with the public on the likely approach to inspections and how people can prepare in advance.

“We want to help people with simple steps they can take so that when the inspections start there is a greater likelihood of their treatment system passing the inspection,” said Gerard O’Leary, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement.

“We have put a great deal of useful information on the EPA website and there has been a very positive reaction to this.  The numbers of people visiting the ‘frequently asked questions’ and looking at the animation we’ve created show that there is a huge interest among the public in knowing how best to look after their septic tanks.”

The EPA will use a twin-track approach to inspection:

  • The first part will focus on engagement with the owners of domestic waste water treatment systems to explain to them their responsibilities and give them information and guidance on how to operate and maintain their systems.
  • This will then be followed by the inspection process itself.  The inspection regime will be pragmatic and risk-based to target resources where they are needed most and to deliver the best outcome for public health and the environment at the lowest possible cost.

“We want to help people to comply,” continued Gerard O’Leary.  “And from calls we are receiving and visits to our website, it is clear that a great number of septic tank owners are conscious of the potential impacts on environment and human health and want to be ready for the inspection process when it starts.”

The risk-based approach to inspection will focus resources initially on areas of high-risk, whether because of closeness to drinking water sources, or bathing water, or fisheries.  Other factors such as geography, topography, soil and so on will also be taken into account.

“We expect that, after the engagement and consultation process, a great number of additional treatment systems will pass inspection because people will have taken simple steps to address problems,” Gerard O’Leary added.

The EPA has developed a suite of information on its website about wastewater treatment systems for single houses.  This includes a short animated video about What you can do to maintain your waste water treatment system, an extensive list of Frequently Asked Questions and general guidance on wastewater treatment systems for single houses.

Homeowners will be notified at least 10 days in advance of an inspection. Inspections will be carried out for the most part by local authority inspectors.  Inspections will focus on determining whether or not the system is posing a risk to human health or the environment. In particular, it will check if the system is:

  • Not leaking;
  • Fit for purpose;
  • Not discharging to surface water without a licence;
  • Not accepting rainwater or clean surface water;
  • Properly operated and maintained;
  • De-sludged at appropriate intervals.

The discussion document Proposal for a National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems is available on the EPA website. Interested parties and individuals are invited to submit comments in writing by emailing the EPA at dwwts@epa.ie, to be received by 31st October 2012. The EPA will take into account comments received when finalising the Inspection Plan.

Notes to Editor:

  1. The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 was published in June of this year.
  2. In finalising the Inspection Plan, the EPA is required to take account of the following:
  • the potential risk of domestic waste water treatment systems to human health and the environment;
  • relevant information relating to the type and location of domestic waste water treatment systems;
  • appropriate and specific criteria; 
  • targets and indicators for inspections as well as any incidental or ancillary matters as may be prescribed by the Minister.

3. If owners of domestic waste water treatment systems have registered their system and the systems are being maintained and are working properly they do not have to take any further action.  Homeowners who are looking for information or have any concerns regarding the operation and maintenance of their systems should either contact their local authority or visit the EPA’s website

Further information: Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie