Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Question 90: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is confident that the policies of the Government and its agencies will achieve the targets set down in the water framework directive when considering the standard of septic tanks in use here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21195/08]
The water framework directive requires member states to achieve at least good status of waters by 2015 and to prevent the deterioration of the status of all bodies of water, including rivers, lakes, ground water, estuaries and coastal waters.
These objectives will be achieved through river basin management plans which are required to be prepared under the directive. Draft river basin management plans are due to be published in 2008 and adopted by the end of 2009. Each plan will be accompanied by a programme of measures aimed at achieving the environmental objectives set out in the directive. The objectives of the directive relate to the protection of ground water and require specific measures to be taken to prevent or limit the input of pollutants to ground water. The programme of measures must be made operational by 2012 at the latest, with the aim of achieving the environmental objectives by 2015.
Where measures already taken have not fully met the objectives of the water framework directive, or fall short of achieving the good status objective for waters by 2015, additional measures will need to be developed at river basin management level.
The regulations which transpose the water framework directive into national law assign the responsibility of making river basin management plans to the constituent local authorities of each of the river basin districts. This work is led by a co-ordinating local authority in each river basin district.
My Department will shortly issue guidance on the preparation of river basin management plans. The guidance will, inter alia, set out the steps that must be taken by public authorities involved in the river basin management planning to align the objectives of other plans and programmes, for example, regional planning guidelines, county development plans and so forth, with the objectives and goals of the water framework directive and to promote the co-ordinated implementation of the directive across river basin districts.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
With regard to septic tanks, the EPA is currently finalising a revised edition of its code of practice on waste water treatment systems serving single homes. This will refer to the most up-to-date European standards and I understand that the National Standards Authority of Ireland will replace its existing 1991 standard applying to septic tanks with the EPA code. More generally, since the adoption of the water framework directive, successive water services investment programmes have taken account of its requirements in the prioritisation of schemes to protect and improve water quality and this emphasis will be maintained in future years.
Does the Minister accept that malfunctioning septic tanks, whether operated by local authorities or individuals, and current waste water treatment systems do nothing to enhance Ireland's reputation or improve our chances of meeting the objectives of the directive? There is no chance of meeting the objectives on the basis of current measures, in line with what is required by 2015. What additional measures is the Minister considering to achieve the objectives? The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has never specified or required a minimum level of quality for treated effluent or durability to be achieved, either by septic tanks or other means. Does the Minister accept that and what will he do about it?
I do not accept that. The existing standards for septic tanks are set out in the recommendations for domestic effluent treatment and disposal from single dwelling houses, published in 1991 by the NSAI. These standards are incorporated into Part H of the building regulations dealing with drainage and waste water disposal. The aim of these standards is to achieve satisfactory practice in the design, construction and maintenance of septic tank drainage systems.
The EPA is currently developing a code of practice for waste water treatment systems for single houses. This will incorporate the requirements of new European standards, due to come into force on 1 July 2009. My Department has placed local authorities on notice about the pending application of the European standards. Two circular letters have issued, which include recommended performance levels for treatment systems which have been determined by the Irish Agrément Board, the national and European-recognised body for certifying new building products or systems, for which national standards do not exist.
I intend that the EPA code of practice will replace the NSAI standard of 1991, under the building regulations. As soon as the EPA completes its work, in the coming months, I will incorporate the code of practice and replace the standard recommendations of 1991 under Part H of the building regulations dealing with drainage and waste water disposal.
By not answering the question, the Minister has effectively acknowledged that the Department has never specified or required a minimum standard for effluent disposal. We are operating to a British standard. The EPA standard to which the Minister referred dates back to 1991.
It has never been reviewed to take account of the type of measures that are required in order to meet more appropriate standards because of the intensification of house building and the other activities which took place during the Celtic tiger era. I ask the Minister to outline the additional measures he will introduce in order to meet the higher standards that are required by the directive by 2015.
I do not fully understand the Deputy's question. On the one hand, he is saying that there is no standard and on the other, that there is a standard, but it dates back to 1991. That is the standard, the NSAI standard. I have just informed the House that there is an EPA standard. I have also informed the House that I have issued letters to the local authorities on the matter. We are taking account of the directive and are implementing higher standards.
The Deputy knows that local authorities have the power to issue by-laws in this area. Only one has done so to date, namely Cavan County Council, mainly because of the topographic situation in that county. We are working on the matter and the Deputy is right to identify the septic tank as a major issue in the context of water quality.