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Septic tank owners told: pay up or face first inspections

HOMEOWNERS who refuse to register their septic tanks will be among the first to be hit with inspections from early next year -- and face fines of up to €5,000.

Officials from city and county councils will begin inspecting tanks in high-risk areas from February 1, and properties with unregistered systems "will be more likely to be inspected", the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned.

Some 500,000 systems are located across the country and many are in areas with significant water pollution problems.

But despite the looming deadline to register, details of just over half of all tanks -- 251,000 -- have been sent to local authorities.

New figures show just 169,611 tanks have been registered so far, with another 82,000 forms yet to be processed.

The registration regime was introduced by Environment Minister Phil Hogan last February after the European Court of Justice ruled that Ireland was not doing enough to protect drinking water sources.

But the move has been dogged by setbacks.

The majority of homeowners spurned the opportunity to register by June 1 for a reduced fee of just €5, forcing the Government to extend the deadline to September 28.

After that date the fee increased to €50 -- but just over half of all tanks have been registered. Rural groups oppose the charge, describing it as an attack on rural Ireland.

But the EPA has said that tanks will be inspected, and that homeowners will be given just 10 days' notice that an inspection will take place.

If there is a problem, the property owner will be told within 21 days of the inspection. Details of the works to be carried out will be forwarded in another three weeks, and homeowners will be given a deadline to complete the works.

The deadline will be based on the amount of work needed, and owners who refuse to comply face the prospect of being fined up to €5,000.

A two-pronged approach to inspections will be used, with the first part involving giving guidance to homeowners about how to operate and maintain their system, followed by an inspection process.

This will involve an inspector, carrying identification, checking that the treatment system is working properly and that untreated waste water is not escaping into the soil.

The system will then be checked to see if there is odour, sewage backed up in the system or visible on the ground, signs that rainwater is entering the system or any discharge.

"The inspection regime will be pragmatic and risk-based to target resources where they are needed most and to deliver the best outcome for public health and the environment at the lowest possible cost," EPA spokesman Gerard O'Leary said.

Irish Independent