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Septic Tanks

Don’t pooh-pooh septic tank regs as deadline approaches Anyone using a septic tank to discharge sewage from the home or business premises in England and Wales, needs to be aware that the final deadline for regulation introduced in 2015 is coming into force at the end of the year. Dominic Kilburn gets to grips with the new regs. As from 1st January 2020, just 5 months away, all septic tank operations need to comply with the Environment Agency’s GBR ‘General Binding Rules’, which were first introduced in 2015 for new installations from that date. In simple terms it means that any existing septic tank that currently discharges directly to surface water, however long it has been in situ, must cease from doing so by that date, and an alternative system sought. The Environment Agency stresses that it will only grant a permit for a discharge from a septic tank directly to a watercourse in exceptional circumstances. It’s also worth noting that even where properties with tanks that discharge directly to surface water are sold prior to that date, responsibility for the replacement or upgrade of the existing treatment system should be addressed between the buyer and seller as a condition of sale. According to an Environment Agency spokesperson answering questions put by Farmers Guide, January 2020 is the target date for compliance with GBR as five years (2015–2020) was considered a reasonable timescale for operators to meet the requirements and make the necessary improvements or changes to their discharge arrangements. And while the Agency says that it will give people and businesses sufficient time to comply with any changes that are required, it will take enforcement action if absolutely necessary where advice and guidance has failed.

What are the options? Clearly, if you are an operator of a septic tank that discharges direct into surface water you are going to have to act very quickly if nothing has been done to date. The easiest solution would be to connect direct to the mains sewer, although this is unlikely to be an option for remotely located farmhouses and businesses and the reason why a septic tank was installed in the first place.

Farmers and businesses with septic tanks that currently discharge into a watercourse will have to upgrade their sewage system by 1st January 2020.

A field drainage system can operate with a septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

A second option is to replace the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant – a more sophisticated unit than a septic tank which usually does both primary and secondary treatment, and which requires an electricity supply used to artificially introduce air to the treatment plant. It is this oxygen transfer through the sewage that enables the growth of aerobic bacteria which are more effective in the breakdown of sewage than the bacteria present in a septic tank. Install this kind of operation and discharge can continue to be direct to surface water (providing it meets the required Standard BS EN 12566), or it can drain to a field drainage system (see below). In addition, the Agency points out that if you’re discharging more than 5m3 (5,000 litres) per day into surface water using a treatment plant, a permit must be applied for.

As from 1st January 2020 septic tanks will not be allowed to discharge into a watercourse unless the Environment Agency grants a permit in “exceptional circumstances”.

A quick guide to septic tank regs • • • • • •

Your septic tank will currently drain into either a watercourse/ditch or a drainage field If it discharges into a watercourse, new legislation means you must replace or upgrade your system by 1st January 2020 You can replace a septic tank with a sewage treatment plant and continue to discharge into a watercourse, or you can connect the existing septic tank to a drainage field, providing the septic tank is in good working order A sewage treatment plant can discharge into surface water or a field drainage system If you are selling your property before that date you must replace or upgrade the system beforehand Go to: and search ‘General Binding Rules’ for the full set of guidelines to the new legislation

The third option is to keep the existing septic tank (provided it is in working order) and discharge into a drainage field consisting of a network of perforated or slotted pipes which provide secondary treatment of waste. Again, there are limitations and for a field drainage system there is a 2,000-litre daily discharge

capacity before a permit is required. This treatment system must be to BS 6297:2007. It should be said that, if a septic tank that currently discharges to ground is operating correctly and is compliant with GBR, there is no requirement to upgrade or replace it continued over...

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Profile for Farmers Guide

Farmers Guide July 2019