National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems and Septic Tanks in Ireland

Posted on 21 Dec 2016

National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems and Septic Tanks in Ireland: All you should know


The second National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (period 2015-2017) has been recently published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ireland. This second stage of the recently launched “Inspection Program for domestic wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks” covers a period of three years. Report on the progress of implementation will be published by the EPA annually.


The primary objective of this National inspection process is to protect public health from potential risks linked to the usage of domestic waste water treatment systems. Resources are allocated by Local Authorities of each Irish county depending on the “risks level” to health, focusing particularly where the risk to human health and the environment is higher.


New regulations under this National Plan include requirements for owners of Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems to control the on-going operation and maintenance of their domestic wastewater treatment systems, including de-sludging.  Any type of domestic wastewater treatment systems available requires regular maintenance to ensure efficient operation and avoid malfunctions leading to contamination of the percolation area or clogging of pipework.



First review of the Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems Inspection Plan


 The first review of this Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems Inspection Plan was originally published in February 2013. Systematic collection of information on the condition of septic tanks in Ireland was allowed for the first time, showing the high number of failures that could have been prevented with more attention from the systems users.

The original target of the Plan was the inspection of all 500,000 Irish septic tanks treating waste water from single houses not connected to public sewers. Local authorities were initially required to carry out a minimum of 1,000 inspections under the National Plan for the first year (from July 2013 to July 2014), and as a first stage; However, it was anticipated that the total volume of inspections would grow to a much higher number in the following years, checking that the Domestic Sewage Treatment Systems and Septic Tanks are not a risk to public health. More inspections to be carried out in high risk such as sensitive water areas and drinking water supply zones were planned. 


Inspections of Septic Tanks: Why?

It is an EPA responsibility to produce this National Inspection Plan and define the approach to be taken with respect to Septic Tanks and Sewage Treatment Plants in Ireland. (Water Services Act, 2007 and Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012.)

The Risk-based scientific methodology developed by the EPA allows identification and prioritization for inspection of Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems. As a consequence, the outcome of inspections is maximized as they focus on systems posing the highest Public Health and Environmental Risks, i.e in highly sensitive waters.


Below are listed the steps generally followed during the inspection process:

  • Identification by Local Authorities of areas of greatest concerns (“risk zones”).
  • Identification of a number of individual properties.
  • Notification of the inspection (letter) of the systems owner with 10 working days' notice.
  • Set up of a suitable date for inspection. Note that the inspection can proceed without the owner being present on site.

Inspections consist of a visual check of the System to ensure it is not leaking nor is discharging without a “permit to discharge” (license). A control of ongoing operation and maintenance completes the inspection together with a check of the sludge level (excess sludge should be emptied when necessary and prior to impact the overall performance of the system)


Am I concerned?

Of course, not everyone will be inspected. Owners of Waste Water Treatment Systems to be inspected are contacted 10 days in advance (letter). It is not possible for an owner of a Septic Tank or Treatment Plant to request an inspection of a system.


Are there costs involved?

The first inspection carried out by the local authority is free of charge.


Who is inspecting the system?

Local authority employees are appointed as inspectors by the Environmental Protection Agency following recommendations set out in the legislation.  A list of official inspectors is kept by authorities and updated. Any local authorities appointed person is able to provide official identification before an inspection. A copy of the inspection report is sent to the owner within 3 weeks after the visit.


And then?

The inspector informs the owner of the inspections results at the time of the inspection. If the septic tank or Wastewater Treatment Plant is successful then the inspector will issue a certificate of compliance. 


What if the system fails?

Consequences of failing the inspection for the owner of the Septic Tank or Domestic Waste Water Treatment System

In the event of the septic tank failing the inspection, the owner is notified by the inspector. Reasons for non-compliance of the system are detailed in the copy of the report sent to the owner. An Advisory Notice is joined together with the inspection report. This notice advises the next stages of the procedure. 

The owner may request a re-inspection. A re-inspection involves paying a €20 re-inspection fee.


Grants and financial support for septic tanks inspections

Grants may be available for the works carried out for repair or upgrading of failing systems. Financial support is also available for replacement of Waste Water Treatment Systems. Check with local authorities or EPA for more information about the possible grants and subsidies for remediation works on your system as personal situation parameters such as income may limit access to the grants availability.

Registration by the owner of the Septic Tank or Waste Water Treatment Plant is a minimum requirement to benefit for financial support.


Your neighbours’ domestic waste water treatment system is failing, contaminating your well?

Local Authorities should be informed.  The environment section and/or the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) should advise.

“The local authority or 'any other person affected by the failure may complain to the District Court if there is a failure by the owner of the domestic waste water treatment system to comply with the general duties set out”.  (Section 70 of the Water Services Act 2007 ( Water Services Act 2007)


Code of Practice for Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems Serving Single Houses in Ireland

The EPA has published a code of practice (CoP) to assist authorities, developers, manufacturers, design offices, groundwork and installation companies to deal with the multiplicity of systems available in Ireland.

This CoP provides guidance on the design, operation and maintenance of on-site wastewater treatment systems up to 10 PE (or People Equivalent). It is a framework of “Best Practices” for the industry. Its aim is to prevent environment and water quality issues related to “wrong” design, installation and operation of On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems. This Code Of Practice includes requirements of most recent European guidelines.

“Best Practices” guidelines incorporate various topics such as Site Suitability for On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems, Selection of a Suitable System, Design and installation of “traditional” Septic Tanks (Soil Absorption Systems), “Trickling Filter” systems and “Mechanical Aeration Systems”, Tertiary treatment, and Maintenance requirements of various systems available.