€5,000 fine for home owners who fail to pump out septic tanks
ALMOST 500,000 households will have to regularly pump out their septic tanks, at a cost of up to €250, or risk being fined €5,000.
New rules announced yesterday oblige homeowners to make sure their tanks are not polluting rivers and lakes, and refusing to carry out repair works could result in a day in court.
And they have until February 1 next to register their tanks, with inspections to begin next year where local authority officials will check to see if tanks are working properly.
They will have the power to force homeowners to undertake repair works, although some financial help may be provided by the Department of the Environment.
The move towards an inspection regime comes because the European Court of Justice has threatened Ireland with daily fines of up to €26,000 for failing to ensure that wastewater is being properly disposed of and not causing pollution.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that no "right-thinking" person would disagree with the regulations which obliged homeowners to make sure their tanks were not leaking effluent. He insisted that only a small number of tanks would need to be upgraded.
"There is no doubt that remediation work to some on-site systems will be necessary, he said. "However . . . this is likely to arise in only a limited number of cases.
"If a septic tank or similar system is being operated and maintained properly, no action will be necessary. Unless there is evidence of endangerment of human health or the environment, the system in place, irrespective of its age or type, will pass inspection."
He added that older systems would not have to be upgraded to meet new standards, and that planning permission would not have to be sought for any works.
Only licensed contractors can carry out the works, but farmers can continue to de-sludge their systems and spread the waste on land.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show there are 497,281 on-site wastewater treatment systems.
Most are in Cork (52,009), followed by Galway (38,262), Donegal (30,383), Kerry (25,976) and Mayo (24,640).
The Irish Independent revealed in March that tanks in 35,000 homes would be among the first to be inspected because they are believed to pose the greatest risks to water courses.
Experts last night warned homeowners not to employ unlicensed contractors.
Stephen Ryan from septic tank services company Septeck last night said if there was no material in the tank to remove, it meant the tank was not working properly. "Where people say they've never pumped their tank, it means the tank is discharging into soil or into a water course," he said.
"It is illegal to do the work yourself but there's plenty of rogue contractors. We come across a lot of problems with systems which have only been recently installed. The temptation is there to get it done for a lower cost, but we're picking up the pieces afterwards."
The cost of pumping out a tank ranges from €180 to €250.