EPA welcomes new septic tank grant scheme as over 50% of systems fail inspection

Date released: July 20, 2020

  • There are an estimated half a million septic tanks and other domestic waste water treatment systems in Ireland.
  • Half of the 1,160 septic tank systems inspected in 2019 failed.
  • Householders with private wells are particularly vulnerable to pollution from faulty septic tanks.
  • 27% of systems that failed inspections during 2013-2019 are still not fixed.
  • The Government’s expanded septic tank grant scheme will help more householders fix faulty systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency today reported on 1,160 Local Authority inspections of septic tanks and other domestic waste water treatment systems in 2019. The EPA found that more than half of the systems failed inspection. A lack of maintenance and desludging was identified as a key issue. The Local Authorities identified more serious issues with nearly 300 systems where they were found to be a risk to human health or the environment.

The EPA also reported that the grant scheme for septic tanks has recently been expanded to cover specific areas where work is being focused to improve water quality under the national River Basin Management Plan. This means that more people will qualify for a grant.

Commenting on the report, Dr. Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“If you do not maintain your septic tank, it can contaminate your own or your neighbour’s well, putting your health at risk and that of your family and neighbours. It may also pollute your local stream or river. You can take simple steps to maintain your septic tank by cleaning it out regularly and by making sure it is not leaking, ponding or discharging to ditches. The Government’s expanded septic tank grant scheme broadens the availability of grants and increases the maximum grant available which is welcomed.”

The EPA also found that 27% of systems that failed inspections during 2013-2019 are still not fixed and Local Authorities need to take action to make sure householders fix systems that fail.

Noel Byrne, EPA Senior Inspector said,

“It is important that householders fix systems where problems are detected and be aware that they can pose a serious health risk. While there has been an improvement in the number of systems fixed, there are still many systems where faults are not addressed over a number of years. This requires increased engagement and enforcement by Local Authorities to address remaining failures”.

The report, Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems Inspections and Enforcement 2019, is available on the EPA’s website.  

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

Notes to Editor

Domestic waste water treatment systems are used by rural householders to treat sewage. There are nearly half a million systems in Ireland and most (90%) are septic tanks.

The EPA is responsible for the development of a National Inspection Plan for domestic waste water treatment systems. The current plan covers 2018-2021. Under the plan, Local Authorities are required to undertake a minimum of 1,000 inspections each year, distributed based on risk across the country.

Local Authorities and the EPA have made information available to the public on the inspection process and on maintenance of systems on their websites.
Grants of up to €5,000 are available to fix DWWTS. Details of the grants scheme and Terms & Conditions are available from the
  External linkDepartment of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
In summary the grant is available for systems:

  • that fail under the National Inspection Plan;
  • that are located in High Status Objective Catchment Areas identified in the River Basin Management Plan;
  • where they are identified by local authorities in Priority Areas for Action (areas where action to address water quality is being focussed under the River Basin Management Plan)

The Department also provides a grant for addressing issues with household wells:
 External linkDepartment of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Grants are administered by Local Authorities (City & County Councils). Householders should contact their Local Authority Rural Water Section if they require further information or wish to enquire about an application.