Septic tanks are typically the most common solution for treatment of waste water and sewage where mains drainage is not available. While they are certainly cost effective the fact is that they frequently perform and cause pollution to watercourses. This is why the new septic tank regulations were drawn up.

According to Flushed Away, a report published by WWF-UK, the world's leading independent conservation organisation, 80% of rivers in England and Wales are ecologically un-safe.

New Septic Tank Regulations

In response to a growing concern about pollution in watercourses, the UK Government produced general binding rules for waste water discharge to watercourse in 2015. These rules are based on the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2014 which bans untreated sewage discharge into a watercourse.

The Environment Agency (EA) guidance notes states that, "You must use a small sewage treatment plant to treat sewage if you're discharging to a surface water such as a river or stream. A small sewage treatment plant (also known as a package treatment plant) uses mechanical parts to treat the liquid so it's clean enough to go into a river or stream. Discharges from septic tanks directly to a surface water are not allowed under the general binding rules. If you have a septic tank that discharges directly to a surface water you will need to replace or upgrade your treatment system by 1st January 2020, or when you sell your property if before this date."

The new septic tank regulations under the General Binding Rules are applicable to England and Wales. Under the new regulations, septic tanks cannot discharge into any watercourse such as ditches, streams, canals, rivers or surface water drains. This means if you have a septic tank system that currently discharges directly into a watercourse, it has to be replaced or upgraded with a full sewage treatment plant before 1st January 2020. Action will have to be taken even earlier if your property is being sold or if the Environment Agency determines that it is causing pollution.

Septic Tank Replacement

Before you replace or upgrade your septic tank system, it is important to understand the regulations so you can take the appropriate action.

If your septic tank currently discharges into a water course one of the following steps must be taken:

  • The tank must be connected to a mains sewer where available
  • A drainage field must be installed so that the septic tank can discharge into the ground
  • The tank should be replaced with a small sewage treatment plant
  • You can apply for a permit to allow discharge into to a watercourse
  • Use a septic tank conversion unit to upgrade an existing tank. You will need to provide evidence that the converted unit will treat to the same standard as a full sewage treatment plant.

The onus of compliance to the new rules lies with you, the owner of the septic tank.

Your current sewage system must have the following:

  • A CE mark or certificate of compliance with a British Standard or it’s on the British
  • Water’s list of approved equipment.
  • Sufficient capacity to meet the discharge requirements of the property
  • Installation in accordance with specifications of the manufacturer
  • Maintained as per the guidelines of the manufacturer
  • Repaired or replaced if it is not in proper working condition. For example: if it has leaks, cracks in tank walls or pipes, blocked pipes, signs that the effluent isn’t draining properly, sewage smells, a failed motor, a failed pump or a failed electrical supply
  • Discharge to the sewer must be above the ‘mean low water spring mark’ for a property in a tidal area

With just over a year to go until the new septic tank regulations come into force there will be increased public awareness of these changes. The time will pass quickly so if you have a septic tank in your property, it’s about time you started to think about replacing or upgrading it.

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