Is Your Septic Tank Illegal?
Septic tank regulations might not be at the forefront of your mind, but if you own or are considering buying a property with a septic tank, it might be something you need to think about soon.
According to new regulations passed in 2015, if your septic tank discharges to surface water such as a ditch, stream, canal or river, you will have to upgrade your system to a sewage treatment plant by 1 January 2020. Alternatively, if you plan to sell your property before that date, you must upgrade the tank before the sale can be completed.
Although this won’t impact everyone, those in rural areas especially should take a look at these regulations and take action to avoid being fined. With just over a year before they come into force, here’s how you should be preparing.
What are septic tanks and sewage treatment plants?
If your house or business isn’t connected to the mains sewer then the sewage from your property will go into one of the following:
- Septic tank – An underground tank consisting of a single chamber that retains the sewage from a property for a sufficient time to allow the solids to form a sludge at the bottom of the tank. The remaining liquid flows out through an outlet pipe and soaks through the ground.
- Sewage treatment plant – A more sophisticated part-mechanical system that treats the liquid so it can be discharged directly into a stream, ditch or other watercourse, or to a soakaway for dispersal into the soil.
- A cesspool – A cesspool or cesspit is a sealed tank that merely collects the sewage and must be emptied. Cesspools must be emptied frequently using tankers to prevent problems from overflowing.
Why did the regulations change?
The new regulations called the ‘General binding rules: small sewage discharge to a surface water’, have been introduced to improve the quality of water that flows into local watercourses. Separate wastewater from within a septic tank used to be allowed to flow through a sealed pipe straight into the local watercourse such as a stream or river. However, this water is no longer considered clean enough to flow directly into the watercourse without causing pollution.
What steps do you need to take?
If you have a septic tank which releases discharge directly into the watercourse then there are two main ways you can comply with the new regulations. You can:
- Change your septic tank to a sewage treatment plant – Sewage treatment plants produce cleaner water which can be discharged straight into a watercourse.
- Install a drainage field or soakaway system – This takes the discharge from your septic tank and disperses it safely into the ground without causing pollution.
A drainage field is a series of rigid pipes with holes which are placed in trenches and over drainage stones. The septic discharge trickles through the holes and into the ground where it is treated by the soil bacteria.
The other option is to install a soakaway system. You can only use a soakaway system if you apply for a permit from the Environment Agency. They will assess the risk to groundwater at your site and determine whether it’s safe to use one.
You must also apply for a permit if you release septic tank discharge:
- To a well, borehole or other deep structure
- More than 2 cubic metres (2,000 litres) per day
- In a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)
To install a new system you must have planning permission and building regulations approval. You can apply retrospectively for both, although you do not need to do so if your system was installed before 1 January 2015.
How can you maintain your septic tank?
To be compliant with the new regulations, you must also ensure your septic tank is regularly cleaned, maintained and emptied before it exceeds its maximum capacity. The tanker company you use to empty the tank must be a registered waste company. You should also check for and repair faults such as:
- Cracked pipes
- Blocked pipes
- Drainage field problems such as soggy areas of ground or ‘pooling’ around the tank or soakaway
Expert septic tank and sewage treatment plant assistance
At Anglia Drain Doctor, we can advise on the installation of sewage treatment plants and provide septic tank cleaning, maintenance and emptying services to keep you compliant. To find out more, please get in touch with our team today.