Polluting Groundwater in Ireland

There’s much talk of pollution at the moment.  If it isn’t bugs in the groundwater from septic tanks, it’s poisonous chemicals from fracking, and yet the rural people seem curiously conflicted.

On the one hand, they’re up in arms about plans to test septic tanks.

What are the tests for?

To make sure the tanks aren’t polluting the groundwater.

You’d imagine that everyone would welcome tests like that in the interest of protecting a vital natural resource, but instead tere’s uproar, organised opposition to the plan, and the government’s resolve is beginning to crumble, so there you have it.  Even though there are probably thousands of malfunctioning septic tanks around the country, people don’t want to know about the danger that they might pollute the drinking water.

Now, on the other hand, we have proposals in Leitrim to carry out fracking, and there’s more uproar.  Rural people are lobbying the government to make sure that fracking is banned.

Why?  Because it might  pollute the groundwater.

So let me get this straight, now.  Are they against one sort of pollution but not too bothered about the other?  Logically, this would mean that the same people in Leitrim would be attending two different meetings with diametrically opposite objectives.  The first would be to insist on measures to prevent pollution from fracking and the second would be to fight tooth and nail against controls on sources of pollution.  They might even hold the two meetings at the same time.

Item 1.  Stop pollution here.

Item 2. No pollution testing here.

Now that’s doublethink if ever I saw it.  Just as well Mattie McGrath can talk from both sides of his mouth at the same time.


55 thoughts on “Polluting Groundwater in Ireland

  1. I do see where you are coming from but im not convinced its entirely a fair appraisal of the situation.
    Firstly the ” Septic Tank ” inspection proposal is incomplete, for people who register in the next 3 months, the inspection will cost 5 Euro, but the Government are providing no information whatsoever as to what the outcome will be for any degree of non compliance or exactly what will be considered non compliant.
    According to EU regs, the only suitable system is a Biocycle unit, septic tanks which are not this system but were installed under Local Authority Planning Permission could be found to now be non compliant but the information just isn’t available and people are worried they will not be able to afford what changes could be imposed on them, I think thats fairly understandable.

    The other side though could be that for a most rural dwellers, they are involved in some area of Farming and if Septic Tanks are being inspected then it opens the can of worms which would be Slurry pits, Silage pits and disposal etc.
    Unfortunatly it seems that only a small number of people are concerned about Fracking and its consequences and impact.

    Its hardly a surprise though that the Irish people display ambivalance, you only have to look back at the Corrib debacle and the proposed but very likely drilling in Killiney bay……….will the Irish population benefit, most unlikely.
    So no surprise then that our primary concern is our own back yard, literally our own back yard.

  2. Good post.

    The elephant in the room here is the Irish facination with their percieved rights to build houses wherever they want to, and the complete denial of any obligations or responsibilties that may come with doing so.

    I’m a rural dweller, and i’m happy to make sure that waste water from my dwelling is properly treated, and believe its right that i pay for the state to have the monitor that it is. I could have lived in a housing estate and made it easier on the state to provide such services, but i didn’t, so i’ll go along with the consequences of that.

  3. It’s not written explicitly but you’re assuming that the same people protesting against fracking are the very same people who don’t want tests done on their tanks. These people are lumped into one category in your first paragraph…

    “the rural people seem curiously conflicted”

    Now I’m sure there is a crossover of certain hypocritical people who are against both, but did it cross your mind that mostly they may be two distinct sets of people whose only connection is that they live in a rural area?

  4. Focus on the issue, which is pollution. You’re trying to drag the discussion down a dead end.

    It’s not going to happen.

  5. There’s definitely an element of wanting it both ways among some people, but I think this is characteristic of many Irish people, not just rural people, its childishness essentially. But there is also a gripe that has some legitimacy, namely, why should rural dwellers have to pick up 100% of the cost for treating their own sewage, when urban dwellers get theirs paid for in full by the State? I’m not inclined to get too upset about it myself, as its swings and roundabouts with these things in the long run IMO.

  6. Essodee » I think it literally comes with the territory. If you don’t want to live in a town, you’re faced with the problem of having no infrastructure.

  7. “Focus on the issue, which is pollution”

    I’m focusing on the main point of your post which was not pollution but the hypocrisy shown by rural dwellers in supporting conflicting views. Maybe you should re-write it so that the main issue is pollution.

  8. Last week here in West Clare, some of the local farmers spread slurry on the already saturated land with rain imminent, in some cases it rained heavily within hours after spreading. To my knowledge, 48 hours of dry conditions are required for proper absorption to take place.
    I walked part of the shoreline later and the shit literally ran into the sea unabated.
    I’m all in favour of having septic tank inspections and I believe that all tanks should comply with regulations so as to minimise pollution. But, it seems a little moronic to allow a “town load” of shit to be sprayed on a field on one hand and then be concerned about septic tanks on the other!
    The local authotity can have a look at my septic system any time they like, but, don’t expect me to pay for it if it’s going to be another half arsed money gathering exercise.

  9. Simon » If you want a job as an admin on a website, set up your own. I’ll decide how the posts here are written.

  10. I’m not telling you how to write posts. I merely suggested that you may want to re-write your post if you want the issue to be about pollution. As it reads now it’s about the hypocrisy of people from Leitrim.

    And I’ll take that accusation and your other replies as a refusal on your part to engage in a debate which you started.

  11. Never a dull day in the bockosphere.

    Some people with septic tanks don’t want to know what, if anything, is happening with their effluent under ground. A bit of what we don’t know won’t harm us. The problem as mentioned above by Caoimhín is a matter of planning, or lack of, and the amount of once off housing in the best little country in the world. There is currently 1 septic tank for every 9 people here as opposed to 1 for every 67 in the UK.

  12. Bock, the most clear minded blogger on the web! BTW what on earth is the fellow in the photo drinking. It looks like it’ll give him more than a hangover

  13. My understanding, and I may be wrong… again, is that rural people do not object to the fee for inspections, but they do fear having to spend thousands on remedial works to their septic tanks should their tanks be discovered to be causing pollution.
    The fear is that they will be legally obliged to carry out remedial works to repair their septic tank.
    The argument is that they should not have to bear this cost as City and town dwellers have their effluent treated by the local authority at no cost.
    I don’t support the above. In my view if your septic tank and percolation area is polluting ground water then you should bear the costs of remedial works.
    What is not well reported in all this is that the percolation area is critical to cleaning waste water and repairing or replacing these can cost 5 to 10 thousand euro.

    A septic tank and percolation area may look fine on the surface but can be causing considerable pollution to ground water.

    I think a lot of rural dwellers are in for a shock.

  14. Joe – In that case, Big Phil won’t win over many people by reducing the inspection charge to €5, but that wasn’t his intention anyway, was it?

  15. Speaking as the proud owner of my own shit dosposal system I would say I welcome the inspection plans , however, I have visions of an increased annual fee in futre years, funding a new quango called the “Regulator for Inspection of Developed Environmental ” or “RIDE” which will have the usual compliment of board and management OVERPAID USELESS FUCKERS drawing the usual inflated salaries etc.

  16. But in principle, you see nothing wrong with checking a septic tank to make sure it’s not polluting the groundwater. Is that correct?

  17. Joe – You should hear some of the noises from these meetings. It’s pretty much “Fuck off and leave me and my septic tank alone”. People (and when i say people i primarily mean the politically organised farmers as part of the IFA portraying themselves as the political voice of rural Ireland) want to take no responsibility for their waste water disposal.

    What you say about cow dung being spread raw and flowing into the sea is common place. Paying a farmer to empty the tank and spread it raw over land to their hearts content is common practice. Raw sludge of any form being sprayed over land in an un regulated form should out lawed, end of.

  18. Correct. Its the owners responsability to make sure it’s working efficiently. It would be great if the powers that be, maybe this time, spent the resources on actually testing tanks and not piss it down the toilet in mis-management as it normally does. I don’t fel like funding another Irish Govt fucking bloated money-burning quango. I’m afraid you have to expect them to fuck up.

  19. It is illegal, and all councils have teams to monitor it, but with public pressure to reduce the size of the public service, monitoring is likely to become less effective..

  20. @ Caoimhín, by far the most common source of shite for spreading on land is from farm slurrey tanks not septic tanks.

  21. Bring in a fine system that would cover the cost. A form of environmental clamping.

    Pay somebody to drive around for the day, once they get the clear smell of shit that’s in the air for the day after it’s spread then pin whoever owns the land. Catch two or three a day, and you easily would at certain parts of the year, in particular if you put in place a reporting system to assist it.

  22. Make it work on the polluter pays principle and i don’t see how the “bloated public sector” issues come into it. Environmental protection is a normal thing in normal societies.

    @Tommy – I’m not disputing that, at all. Doesn’t mean the domestic waste water issue should not be tackled though.

    Just heard Gerry Adams saying rural people paid for urban sewage treatment system though taxes – incorrect. Those who bought their homes in the urban areas paid for it. The developer was levied for such services, the cost was added on to the house price.

  23. BTW you know it’s not very long ago Dublin Corp sent Dublins poo out into the irish Sea every day in a big ship with a trap-door in the bottom.

  24. I do indeed. It was called the Sir Joseph Bazalgette. A very poor memorial to a fine Victorian engineer.

    But if you’re interested in conspiracy theories, look instead at the attempts to create a raw sewage outfall in Baldoyle to permit construction of the Endcamp development on the old racecourse site. 2,400 houses, I think. Follow the money on this and you might be surprised where you end up.

    The details didn’t emerge during the tribunal, for some reason, but of course, that would have nothing to do with the fact that so many Fine Gael supporters were involved, both in the political sphere and among those promoting the project.

    It was a wonderful example of cross-party cooperation.

    Follow that lead.

  25. They had a great faith in dilution. This is what determined the length of the outfall pipe at Broadwater estuary.

    Haughey stood to gain, as did many FG politicians, and therefore there was a unity of purpose.

    A close study of the consultants involved might reveal more than you might expect.

  26. I think a large part of the problem surrounding this issue comes back to implementation. The government want €5/50 for simply registering the existence of a septic tank, after which they will apparently now only inspect tanks after a pollution event has taken place in a locality (or at least that’s what Phil Hogan is saying at the moment).

    To my mind registration should be free on the basis that you then pay the €50 if and when an inspection takes place. Or better, the costs are wrapped up into the household charge given that they are supposed to cover services provided by local authorities.

  27. There seems to be a lt of ignorance and mis-information.I think it is worth considering the following;
    1. Local Authorities continue to pollute rivers and streams with their large scale water treatment plants.
    2. Slurry spread on fields at the wrong time causes pollution but not as bad as human waste would.
    3. when septic tanks are de-sludged the waste is then spread over fields to potentially go on to cause pollution and disease.
    4. People who built one off houses in the last 5 or so years would have had to have had their waste water treatment plants designed by a site assessor and the construction supervised and signed off. These people should not have to have their systems checked again.
    5. A septic tank percolation area can pollute in two ways.
    a. the effluent cannot percolate dense clay and stays on the surface and is washed into rivers and streams. It also pollutes locally as flies proliferate and take disease to neighbouring houses.
    b. the effluent percolates too quickly and reaches under ground water supplies before it has a chance to be broken down by bacteria. This pollution is not visible but is also serious.

    I have designed and installed numerous waste water treatment systems.

  28. Do you reckon there’s any particular reason why the registration fee can’t be deducted from the rural dwellers household tax Bock? I thought that’s what the household tax is for? So Local Authorities can provide clean streets in towns, working lights in towns, sewerage facilities in towns but for some reason not the registration fee of rural septic tanks many of which are already registered. I’d assume that’s what Planning Permission is for. It’s a bit odd that rural dwellers are being asked to pay for the same thing twice here in my view or is it three times in this case? Could be considered four times for those who paid contributions to their Local Authorities. Such inefficiencies and the lack of communication between departments…same old Ireland I guess. Pay now ask questions later.

    and the damn Bond Holders!

  29. I think the registration fee is an irrelevance and so does Mattie McGrath. There should be no charge. The real problem will arise when some people are asked to stop polluting.

  30. Bock, I have to agree with your logic. I would also be willing to comply with any recommendations required to make sure the system works properly. In my case, they wouldn’t make a penny, because it’s properly installed.

  31. If the registration fee is irrelevant I guess then anyone who is blatantly polluting the environment should be held accountable. I wouldn’t sleep easy at night myself if my home was situated in a cess pit of my own feces never mind polluting a river. No sympathy for them at all.

  32. I can equally say that perhaps faults within urban sewerage treatment systems contaminate aquifers. Who’s to say it doesn’t. What’s being done about it?

  33. The same standard applies: fix it.

    If you know of a particular case, let’s have the details and we’ll expose it now.

  34. Very interesting and so topical a blog.
    Of course septic tank impacts should be mitigated. All polluting sources, especially when it comes to aquifers, need to be ideally eliminated. Should be no question nor argument. A government with even partly failing gonads would stand it’s ground. Politics aside, the timing of this is not optimal, what with Holy Communion money probably the next to be taxed!
    But there is a distinct difference between Fracking getting the green light, becoming a form of institutionalized, approved and permitted pollution, that will destroy vast aquifers,surface waterways, and degrade air quality, and government trying to retroactively exercise diligence long overdue regarding septic tanks.
    Rural areas suffer the most from both–Fracking doesn’t happen in urban areas, nor generally even close. And septic systems are synonymous with green acres. Septic tanks are a necessity–Fracking is a controlled disaster in the making. I’m not making any excuses, but the differences are obvious. The risks are huge from both–but government approving an industry as risky as Fracking while simultaneously seen as taxing septic tank owners is guilty of utter hypocrisy. Good communications, and a little integrity, might help.

  35. Herr Boss,
    Speaking from a country dweller’s point of view the problems that I’m hearing that people have with the proposed system is as follows:

    Firstly it is seen as another stealth tax, take the charge out of it, create some jobs and this is dealt with.

    Secondly and this will take a little explaining, I apologise in advance.

    There have been various regulations for one-off systems which have changed over the years (to those of us in the industry for a long time it appears that every twelve months standards have changed).

    There has been a requirement in particular in some county areas driven by a changeover to an assessor system rather than the older Health Board inspectors which means that anyone that could stump up the cost of a course and insurance could become an assessor but those who spent four years or more getting a full-time qualification could not do the assessments without forking out the ridiculous fee for the course which is covered in first six months of their training and does not go as far as their qualification had, A bit like the current BER system.
    Variances in the testers is massive and more often than not they had a cut out of whatever system they proposed in their recommendations, this is fact, I know this as I was offered it myself despite not being an assessor.
    The test itself is ridiculous in any case, two tests within 10 meters of each other could have and often do have totally different results, and depending on the assessor usually they will keep going till they get one to pass otherwise they have trouble collecting their fee.

    After forking out for this assessment (around 1,000 +- 200, it used to be although this is falling) the planning contribution added after a grant of planning for connection to your own system is in the region of 2,000-5,000 index-linked depending on the LA for the county in question.
    Most rural dwellers then have to pay for a connection to a group water scheme usually about 500-1000, pay yearly contributions which vary per scheme and then have to pay between 1,500-3,000 of a planning contribution to connect to their own water scheme or well (For wells the costs go up to between 2,500-5000 to bore the well and fit the pump, then a further 200-300 to test the water before it’s deemed potable).

    The proposed examination does not take into account the variances between requirements at the time of construction of the dwelling and the fear is that after forking out for all of the above and then anything between 2,500 for a standard septic tank and percolation area to 10,000 for the higher end systems that they will now have to bring their systems to yet another different standard despite complying with all of the requirements in force at the time that they were constructed.

    There have been a multitude of designs of treatment systems, particularly over the last ten years, over 80% of which companies no longer exist and therefore cannot be made to fix a design problem or failure of compliance with the standards required.

    This can be sorted simply by 1) requiring people to comply with the standards in force at the time of construction, and 2) making this quite clear to people and 3) putting a fund together to cover the cost of failure by an inspector/assessor who is no longer practising or insured, or companies who are no longer existing and insured for the failure of any of these treatment systems to comply with the standards in force at the time that they were fitted.

    Put simply let those who fucked up take the blame and cover the costs. Of course what no-one realises is that the local Authorities maintaned the registers of these qualified people and therefore will have to shoulder the blame of any fuckups that the assessors on their list have made in the past.

  36. Here’s how it should be done.

    Local Authorities should go to all local water supply sources and monitor and establish current base levels of pollution. (Hold on, do they not do that already?)

    If there is no pollution then it would seem that there is no difficulty with septic tanks in the local catchment. Ongoing monitoring should establish immediately when and if any problems do arise. That is when inspections of septic tanks should take place. Inspections of potential agricultural and commercial sources of pollution should be carried out regularly and on a surprise basis, with powers of closure where problems are not remedied.

    Our septic tank soaks into a field that is less than a kilometer from the source of our mains water supply. We poo, we pee, we drink, we don’t have a problem. This is an EU directive that is being implemented as a tax raising exercise. It has no other basis.

    Fracking has potentially far more negative consequences for ground water quality since it can compromise the integrity of deep aquifers that septic tank bacteria could never reach.

    While fracking may have fewer potential negative outcomes in the Loop Head exploration area the worst case scenario in the Lough Arrow basin could be disastrous for the entire Shannon system.

  37. Maybe this is off subject but what I find interesting about this issue is the fact that the rural community, right or wrong, are not going to roll over and take it. Unlike their urban cousins, if the government try to bring in legislation that will affect them in an adverse way, the rural community will get organised, get out on the streets and , most importantly, hassle the fuck out of their local TDs. There’s a lesson for us there !

  38. Agriculture

    Cattle in a fieldMost people in rural areas know about the many benefits that the CAP has brought to Irish farmers since 1973. Some may remember all too well what life was like for farmers before EU membership. In fact, farmers have been the main beneficiary of direct EU funds in Ireland. Between 1973 and 2008 Irish farmers have received nearly €44 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy. Last year alone, Ireland received €1.8 billion directly from the CAP. As Ireland’s economy has modernised, farm numbers have been going down, but the CAP has taken the edge off this. Without it, the process would have been much more painful.

    Ireland has also received a further €10 billion since 1973 channelled through the Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund. Most of this money has also gone into rural areas. (Structural Funds are extra to this.)

    The original goal of the CAP was to make Europe self-sufficient in food. This was done by paying aid to farmers according to how much they produced. It is the only sector in the EU gets a direct aid paid from Brussels to each and every business. Direct farm aid has been what has allowed many family farms to stay in business. But during the 1980s, the EU ended up with almost permanent food “mountains” and it became clear that the bigger producers were benefiting in a disproportionate way. It was also accused of distorting international markets (though the EU was not alone in that).

    Other European tax-payers wanted better value; the CAP had to change… and it did. The MacSharry Reform (under Irish Commissioner Ray MacSharry) of 1992 was the first big shake-up. Since then, EU governments agreed to un-hook financial support from production. This means that farmers are no longer paid just to produce food. Direct income payments continue but are linked to the farmer’s role as guardian of the countryside, and to food safety and animal welfare standards. More information on Ireland and the Rural Development Plan is available here.

    Reform of the CAP is gradual and the debate on the long-term future of the CAP is just beginning. However, its budget is guaranteed up to 2013. Ireland and the rest of the ‘old’ EU states still benefit disproportionately from CAP funding as just under 20% goes to the ‘new’ Member States.

    The CAP costs about €55 billion a year or 40% of the total EU budget. This is less than 0.5% of GDP in the EU. The CAP is the only policy funded totally from the EU budget.
    And the taxpayer is now expected to pay, to clean up farmers shit. What a great country.

  39. That old eurovision entry; “My lovely Leitrim”, could be changed to “My Fracked & Septic Leitrim”.

    Doesn’t have the same ‘zing’ to it though.

  40. @ snookertony. I also miss Simon and his comments.

    This ‘Bock’ character is obviously very rude.

  41. I am a little late coming to this post, but should like to comment anyway.
    The place in which I live is rural and beautiful, nestling among fields owned and worked by four neighbour farmers and as is usual custom and practise, on occasion they empty their slurry pits and spread it on these fields. Part and parcel of rural life. The lane, once a surfaced road, has been left to fall into disrepair, the potholes and dips filling with rainwater, bovine faeces, urine and mud, a couple of days sunshine make these a fine breeding ground for all sorts. My point being, that for a good proportion of any given year, I live in a world of shit, a little oasis a positive sea of the stuff, and you can add foxes, badgers, birds, dogs and cats and other smaller mammals that all go about their business, and in doing so, add to it all.
    But it’s MY daily stool that is blamed as the polluting agent. My waste, a daily poo is potentially polluting the groundwater in the water table 120 feet below.
    The short, and to-the-point response from me would be, fuck-off.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.