Minister Hogan unveils Water Services Amendment Bill 2011

The Water Services Amendment Bill 2011 has been published by the Irish minister for the environment, community and local government Phil Hogan, in a bid to reduce drinking water and groundwater pollution in Ireland.

The new Bill, released yesterday (November 3), provides a registration and inspection system for septic tanks as required to address a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Ireland.

As a result of failure to comply with the EU ruling, Ireland is facing a potential lump sum fine of Euro2.6m, as well as daily fines of Euro26,000 for as long as non-compliance continues.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hogan said he anticipated that the new system will provide a “proportionate and risk-based approach to inspections of septic tanks”, adding that the key objective of the new legislation “is to enhance and protect public health and the environment”.

This he said would benefit rural communities by providing them with better quality water.

Mr Hogan said: “It is intended that inspections would be targeted to areas where drinking water sources or habitats are likely to be, or have been, impacted upon. The risk-based approach is intended to minimise the impact on householders and the likelihood is that inspections under the new system will commence in 2013”.

As part of the new Bill, all households with septic tanks and other on-site systems will be required to register with their local authority and a national register will be compiled and held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the department, the revenue generated will be used to fund the delivery of a national inspection plan which will be developed by the EPA and managed by local authorities. They will then provide householders with maintenance advice and enforce necessary system improvement work.

It is thought Mr Hogan will initiate the Bill in the Seanad later this month, when he will be seeking to have the legislation enacted as a matter of priority.

He said: “If we do not comply with the ECJ ruling in a timely manner Ireland will be the subject of significant fines by the Court so it is my intention to proceed with the legislation without delay. I look forward to debating the Bill with my Oireachtas colleagues and I hope to have the legislation enacted as early as possible.”

However, Friends of the Irish Environment has called the legislation “irresponsible”, saying that the proposed risk-based inspection programme for septic tanks would not meet the terms of the European judgment.

The group said: “The model used in County Cavan which was specifically singled out as satisfactory in the Judgment of the European Court requires that all septic tanks are registered and inspected at periodic intervals.

“The Government’s proposal does not meet that standard and so risks further infringement proceedings, as well as leaving the environment at risk from the estimated one-third of the 400,000 septic tanks across Ireland that are currently polluting the environment.”

Carys Matthews

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