If you’re building, reside in, or own property off the mains drainage network it’s crucial that you’re in the know about the changing septic tanks legislation.
In an attempt to take measures against water pollution, the Environment Agency has laid down General Binding Rules, which mean you’ve until 1 January 2020 to upgrade or replace your septic system.
Septic tanks can contaminate groundwater supplies and surface water in lakes, streams, and rivers. Such contamination can render supplies unsuitable for drinking and cause harm to the environment, with social and economic ramifications.
The legislation of septic tanks started in 2010. Around this time, all septic tanks had to undergo registration. In 2011 the Government revised this approach and doled out a consultation in 2014.
In January 2015, new regulations were made following the consultation. Septic tank regulations 2015 dictate the way septic tanks are controlled in England, improving water quality and safeguarding the environment.
If your septic system was installed and discharging before this date, you’ve what is known as ‘existing discharge.’ If it was installed and discharging after this date, you’ve a ‘new discharge.’
Formerly, you could discharge the waste from septic tanks in two ways:
The effluent is discharged through a network of drainage pipes in nearby sub-soils, providing another form of treatment for the wastewater from the septic tank. This helped make sure that the wastewater being released didn’t cause pollution.
Septic tanks discharging into a drainage field aren’t affected by 2020 septic tank soakaway regulations.
The sewage runs through a pipe directly into a lake, river or stream. The new rules do affect the direct discharge to a waterway as they simplify that direct septic tank discharge into a ditch will no longer be allowed.
If you’ve a septic tank, by law, you must act per the ‘general binding rules’ by making sure your system is properly maintained and doesn’t cause pollution.
Additional protection is in place in zones classified as environmentally sensitive, where people might need to request for a permit.
New Septic Tank Regulations In 2020 Explained
Straight to the nitty-gritties, what is changing as of 1 January 2020 with regards to septic tanks?
Well, if you’re accountable for a property that has a septic tank or are buying an estate with a septic tank, you need to be conversant with the upcoming legal requirement to upgrade by 2020, which could affect you.
Please use this info to find out if you’ll be required to take action towards compliance before 1 January 2020 to avoid violating regulations and suffer an unwanted fine equating to £100,000:
Septic Tank Regulations England
A septic tank settles the solids in the wastewater and then discharges the liquid septic waste to the ground through a well designed and made drainage field – Not an Ezy drain, tunnel, soakaway crate, or soakaway pit. These are inadmissible for wastewater dispersal.
Septic tanks cannot discharge to surface water drains, rivers, canals, ditches, streams or any other type of waterway.
Under the new Environment Agency Septic Tank General Binding Rules, if you’ve a specific septic tank that discharges to surface water (river, stream, ditch, etc.) you are required to upgrade or replace your septic tank treatment system to a full sewage treatment plant by 2020, or when you sell property, if it’s prior to this date.
All septic tanks that as of today discharge into waterways must be either:
- Replaced, using sewage treatment plants with full BS EN 12566-3 Documentation, or
- The discharge to the waterway impeded and redirected to a drain field, designed and made according to the up-to-date British Standard BS6297 2007
Septic Tank Regulations Scotland
If your property resides in Scotland, you MUST register your sewage treatment discharge, both existing and new with SEPA (Scotland) before 1 January 2020.
If it’s an existing discharge that has been in use since 1st April 2006, then you can register it if it’s for 15 people or fewer.
If it was in use before 1st April 2006, then you can register it if it’s for 50 people or fewer. For populations higher than these, on the dates highlighted above, then you have to get a license from SEPA.
Septic Tank Rules and Septic Tank Registration Wales
If your property resides in Wales, you MUST register your septic tank or sewage treatment plant with Natural Resources (Wales) before 2020. You’ll also require consent of discharge for any discharge to ground through a watercourse or drain field.
For small-scale discharges, it’s usually free, subject to conditions:
- If your sewage treatment plant, or septic tank discharge into a drain field in the ground and the residential property has up to 13 persons.
- If your package sewage treatment plant discharges to a waterway, and the residential property houses less than 33 persons.
- If a sewage system isn’t near a protected location, or the groundwater under your property, runs to a water extraction point that is used for human consumption.
- For instances of the above, a source protection zone for drinking water or a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). Natural Resource Wales will check this once they get your application.
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Frequently Asked Septic Tank Questions… Answered!
The following are some questions you might have about your septic system to better understand if your septic tank is 2020 ready, how to maintain it, and how it functions:
What are Small Sewage Treatment Plants and Septic Tanks?
If your business or home isn’t connected to the mains sewage system, the effluent from your washing machines, sinks, showers, baths, and toilets will flow into one of the following systems:
- A Septic Tank is an underground tank where solids descend to the bottom forming sludge, and the liquid flows into a drain field where microorganisms treat it as it penetrates the ground. It’s not allowed to discharge into a waterway.
- A Small Sewage Treatment Plant works in the same way but uses mechanical parts to oxygenate the microorganisms, which makes them more effective at treating effluent and means they can discharge treated wastewater into flowing water or a drain field.
- A Cesspit or Cesspool is different since the raw sewage is deposited in a sealed tank, instead of being treated and discharged, which means the general binding rules does not cover them. However, cesspit regulations dictate that they must be drained when full and shouldn’t be allowed to leak or overflow.
What are My Responsibilities as a Homeowner?
Under the new code of practice put into effect by the Environment Agency, homeowners are in charge of the installation and maintenance of the sewage treatment system on their property and to reduce its impact on the local environment.
What are the Deadlines?
If the Environmental Agency discovers before January 1, 2020, that you’re currently contaminating surface water through discharge from a septic tank, you’ll be required to install a new system before the new regulations are implemented.
In such circumstances, you’ll be given 365 days to upgrade, although this will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
What are the Options?
Well, there are two ways in which you can comply with the new regulations:
- Exchange your septic tank for a sewage treatment plant – a sewage treatment plant produces water that’s clean enough to discharge straight to a waterway.
- Install a soakaway system or a drain field – this will take the wastewater from your septic tank, and discharge it safely into the ground without causing pollution.
What Do The New Regulations Mean For Septic Tank Owners?
If your septic tank was installed and discharging on, or after, 1st January 2015 it must conform to the ‘General Binding Rules’ by discharging to a drain field. This is known as a ‘new discharge,’ and no action has to be taken, however, if your septic system was discharging before the regulations on 31st December 2014 you’ve got an ‘existing discharge’.
‘Existing discharges’ are no longer deemed safe and the Environment Agency demands that these septic systems have to be replaced with new, compliant systems before 1 January 2020.
If you’re selling your property the ‘General Binding Rules’ simplify that you must replace your system with a compliant one prior to selling your home.
On the other hand, if your septic system poses a serious risk to environmental or human health or is causing pollution, the Environment Agency will ask you to upgrade or replace your septic tank before 1 January 2020 and within 365 days of being notified.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Make sure your septic system is correctly sized and installed, according to the new septic tank installation regulations. Always consult the Government’s Approved Document H before undertaking any installation.
Additionally, you’ll need to ensure your tank is maintained and emptied on a regular basis by a professional (e.g., a registered waste carrier) in line with the manufacturer’s directions.
If you’re buying or selling, it’s the seller’s duty to inform potential buyers in writing if an estate has a septic tank – including its maintenance requirements and its exact location.
Keep in mind that if you reside in Scotland, Wales, or near groundwater source protection zones (SPZ1), other rules might apply. Your manufacturer can provide guidance but always check with your local environmental agency as well.
How to Follow the Regulations and Protect Your Local Environment
Complying with the general binding rules is easy. Here are the main things you need to do:
- Have your septic system emptied by a registered waste carrier regularly to make sure it doesn’t cause pollution
- Maintain your septic system regularly, getting any problems or faults fixed immediately
- You’re limited to discharging utmost 2,000 liters of treated waste daily into the ground or 5,000 liters of treated waste daily to flowing water. If you discharge more, you’ll need a permit.
- Check in with the Environment Agency before installing a new septic system as you might require a permit. Speak to your local council to determine if your system meets building and planning regulations.
Quick Tips for Maintaining Your Septic Tank
Maintaining your septic system properly will help minimize your energy consumption, avoid costly repair bills, and prevent pollution. Here’s how:
- Have the sludge emptied regularly by a registered waste carrier
- Get it serviced annually by a certified engineer and fix problems immediately
- Frequently check for signs of pollution like grey fungus, lush weeds, foam, sludge, pools of water or sewage smells in your local river or stream. If you spot any of these problems call a professional for help:
- Don’t flush wipes, nappies, sanitary items or similar objects down the toilet as they can block the system
- Don’t put chemicals, oils or fats down the drain as they kill the microorganisms that help break-down the waste
- Avoid using phosphate detergents, which are harmful to the environment
- Keep maintenance records, so you know when to empty and service your system
It’s not all gloom and doom; there’s still enough time to make the switch. And let’s face it, no one wants to think about the inhabitants of the local rivers or streams hanging around in the polluted water from septic tanks, so it’s a positive change for the environment.
If you’re unsure whether your septic tank has existing or new discharge, contact the Environment Agency who will be able to inform you if your system is compliant. The government’s own guide is available here.
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