Septic Tanks: A Report on the Progress of the National Inspection Plan (2013 - 2015)

13th August 2015

This report on behalf of An Taisce examines the progress of the EPA’s National Inspection Plan (NIP) for Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems (DWWTS); in particular, septic tanks.

The NIP was borne out of Ireland’s efforts to comply with the EU Waste Framework Directive, which culminated in the amendment of the Water Services Act in 2012. The Water Services (Amendment) Act responded to the ruling of the European Court of Justice over Ireland’s failure to adopt sufficient legislation and regulatory measures regarding domestic wastewater in rural areas. As specified in the act, the NIP would be formulated by the EPA and attempt to remedy Ireland’s shortcomings by initiating an annual septic tank inspection regime and citizen engagement strategy.

There are currently over 500,000 DWWTSs in Ireland serving rural households (many of which are septic tanks) and research indicates that a sizable proportion of these systems are either inadequately designed, incorrectly located, poorly maintained or situated in or near areas at high risk from contamination. It is thus patently clear that present and future management of DWWTSs in Ireland needs to be improved.

The NIP is central towards ensuring that DWWTSs throughout Ireland are properly constructed, maintained and ultimately pose a minimal threat to human health and the environment. However, it is the view of this report that – some recent progress notwithstanding – the NIP has largely been found wanting and will not be able to achieve its objectives unless several of its core components are re-evaluated and modified.

The primary purpose of this report is to draw attention to what is a significant, still-burgeoning issue through a descriptive and prescriptive analysis of the NIP’s implementation thus far. As the DWWTSs scenario in Ireland is an issue likely to gain increased momentum in the coming months, it is believed that this report arrives at a timely moment in the NIP’s lifespan and may be of some consequence to environmentalists with a casual or vested interest in the subject of DWWTSs.

Simon Mooney

Simon Mooney is a Research Intern with An Taisce's Built Environment Office.