Septic Tank Charge: Don’t register, don’t pay!

A major campaign of opposition to the septic tank charge and the Household Tax has developed throughout rural Ireland with meetings of 400-500 in Donegal Town and Malin in Donegal and 500 plus in Newcastle West, County Limerick. In some cases opportunist establishment politicians are helping organise these meetings but Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are largely responsible for the failure to provide an adequate modern waste water infrastructure and they will be found out in the course of the genuine campaign which is being built.

The first question will be whether people should pay the €50 to register their septic tank. There is no reason other than revenue collection to register since all houses not connected to a public sewer are already known to the local authorities.

Municipal waste water treatment was a historic advance for humanity following centuries where sewage was dumped outside the door and streets were open sewers causing multiple diseases  as is still the case in many parts of Africa and Asia

To prevent water borne pollution and disease, waste water from household use including toilets must be treated on site before discharge to ground water in areas without public sewers.  Septic tank primary treatment prior to secondary treatment by soil borne bacteria in trenches with suitable soil is the accepted method used to reduce pollution strength sufficiently to allow the effluent to be discharged to ground water and rivers.

However, the majority of on site treatment systems  installed in Ireland prior to Ireland joining the EEC in 1973 are not compliant with standards required to prevent pollution of ground water – many are ‘cess pits’ not having any percolation secondary treatment and have not  had the ‘sludge’ removed during the lifetime of the system whereas the current EPA standard requires desludging once a year at least.  In addition, lax regulation by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael/Labour governments since 1973 has meant ground water and rivers are being polluted by septic tank effluent.

The state was required by the EU Water Directive to enforce standards to prevent pollution but Fianna Fail got a 10 year derogation which has now elapsed and the state is subject to massive fines for failure to comply with the Directive.

Very few people would be happy  to drink water containing other peoples sewage. Because of the widespread pollution of ground water it is essential that the necessary remedial works are completed and working people should support the intent of the Directive. However,  the problem is that the cost of remedial works to individuals can be prohibitive.

It is likely that more than 50% of all septic tanks will be found to be non-compliant following inspection. Many tanks are built from blockwork and are leaking into the surrounding soil/water, many have no percolation system with the effluent soaking into the ground and ground water

In the event that a system is found non compliant, the  cost to comply with the current Environmental Protection Agency standards for effluent treatment can be very significant – thousands at least to removal of existing septic tank, new septic tank, percolation  tests on soil for suitability certified by an insured professional, new pipe work and inspection chambers and civil engineering works – excavation, installing tank, pipework and backfilling. Other complications arise if a gravity system is not possible, if the soil is too marshy or if rock near surface and a pumped solution with imported soil/sand to construct a soil/sand filter adding very substantial costs – even with building costs plummeting a pumped option to filter bed would be at least €10,000.

These costs would pose huge problems for individual families. Urban dwellers have seen €5 billion spent on urban waste water treatment over the past decade and taxpayers in non-sewered areas can reasonably demand that the necessary remedial works be funded or completed by the state.

The compliant tax payer in rural areas having a non-compliant septic tank system  should have the necessary remedial works completed by public works or have grant aid to get the works done. The most rational solution to this problem is that the necessary works be completed as part of a public works programme.

In densely populated rural areas reliant on individual septic tanks – such as Gweedore in Donegal – t all these properties should be connected to gravity sewer systems with area  pumping stations discharging to a public waste water treatment plant. The need is there, thousands of  skilled workers able  to do this work are on the dole or leaving the country, factories making concrete and pvc pipes are closing down.

What is needed is to match the need with the skills and resources available. Labour Party TDS will say – where’s the money going to come from – at the same time as they vote to hand over billions of taxpayers money to gamblers for failed bets that we had no hand act or part in.