Sewage and Wastewater

Controls over  sewage is primarily the responsibility of the water services authority Irish Water. Sewers and water mains which serve more than one property (usually outside the property) were vested originally in the local authorities and now in Irish water. These are not easements. There are automatic rights which a rise by law to pipes and  conduits that  fall within the definition. The implication is that that Irish Water is  responsible for their maintenance.

The water services authority has power to make bylaws in relation to drainage of buildings sewage and effluent.  The National Building Regulations prescribe standards for drainage of buildings.

There are general EU standards on wastewater treatment. They prescribe minimum standards for treatment of domestic sewage and certain industrial wastewater disposal of sludge. Compliance with other EU legislation such as the habitats directive may require higher standards of treatment. The EU wastewater treatment regulations designate waters as sensitive subject to the higher obligations.

The level of treatment depends on the classification of the waters to which the treated water is discharged, and the populations involved. Higher standards apply to wastewater discharges to  sensitive areas which are identified in accordance with specified criteria.

Broadly speaking sewage sludge from water wastewater is to be reused where possible. Disposal to surface waters is prohibited.

The use of sewage sludge in agriculture is regulated under specific regulations or under specific licenses attached to integrated pollution control licences for larger-scale bodies.

The water services authority itself  (Irish Water) may be prosecuted and is subject to enforcement in relation to standards prescribed by law by the EPA.


The wastewater treatment directive requires States to provide assistance with a collection of wastewater in population centres of more than 2000 including secondary treatment of discharges from such places. More detailed further requirements apply to places with  populations of more than 10,000.

The wastewater treatment directive requires prior authorisation of wastewater discharges from food processing industry and industrial discharges into urban wastewater collection systems.

The sanitary authority/Irish Water required to take steps to ensure that the requirements of the regulations are met in relation to the discharge of industrial wastewater and review any licence at regular intervals.

The EPA is the licensing body for wastewater discharge licences. It sets emission values for pollutants with the aim of achieving good surface water in accordance with the Water Framework Directive.

Domestic Wastewater

The Water Services Amendment Act 2012 arose from a European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland arising from failure to implement an EU directive to provide for monitoring and inspection of septic tanks and domestic wastewater systems. The Minister may make regulations for these systems.

Owners of domestic septic tanks were required to register them. Directions could be given in relation to standards. The legislation remains the responsibility of the local authorities and department

Under the 2012 act the owner of any premises connected to a domestic wastewater treatment must apply to the water services authority to have the system register. It must include prescribed information.

The 2012 act introduced a system of inspection of domestic wastewater systems. Where following an inspection the inspector is of the opinion that the domestic wastewater system constitute a risk to human health or the environment and in particular creates a risk to water soil plants and animal, creates a nuisance noxious odours or adversely affects the countryside, the  inspector shall notify the owner concerned.

The advisory notice shall set out the opinion state the reasons and direct the owner of the premises to remedy the matters specified. Person aggrieved may apply to the water services authority to have the system inspected by an authorised person appointed. That person may confirm or cancel the advisory notice. There is a further right of appeal to the District Court where a person is aggrieved by an advisory notice requirement.

The person must undertake remedial works and confirm that they have been done for. Breach of the obligation is an offence.

There is a registry of domestic wastewater treatment systems. There are duties on owners of premises connected to domestic wastewater systems to apply for registration and ensure that the system does not pose a risk to human health or the environment. EPA inspectors may enter premises monitor discharges and take samples. The water services authority must periodically review each entry on the register.

The EPA provides assistance to water services authorities in the performance of their functions. This is Irish Water in most contexts. If there is a failure, it must issue a direction to the authority concerned. The authority is obliged to keep records in relation to inspection of treatment systems, advisory notices issued, notices of compliance and court action. These are copied to the EPA.

The EPA must make a national inspection plan in relation to monitoring domestic wastewater systems which should have regard to the risk to human health and environment, relevant information on types and location of treatment systems quality of and quantitative criteria targets and indicators for inspections and other matters as may be prescribed. This must be reviewed periodically.

Duties of Owners

The domestic wastewater treatment systems registration regulations prescribe the actions to be taken by owners of domestic wastewater treatment to ensure compliance with their obligations. They must operate and maintain it so that domestic wastewater or sewage effluent shall not emit, discharge, seep, leak or otherwise escape from the system, or part thereof:  other than from a place or part of the system where the system is designed or intended to discharge domestic waste water or sewage effluent, or  into surface waters except where licensed under  the Water Pollution Act  or  onto the surface of the ground

The owner of the premises connected to a domestic wastewater treatment system must comply with the regulations and ensure the system does not constitute a risk to human health or the environment. It is an offence to fail to do so. It is a duty of a seller of property to produce a valid certificate of registration to a purchaser on completion of sale and notify the change of ownership

The owner of a domestic waste water treatment system shall be responsible for its maintenance and renewal and shall ensure that its parts and components are fit for purpose, operational where appropriate and kept in good order and repair so as to prevent a risk to human health or the environment.

A domestic wastewater treatment system shall be de-sludged at intervals appropriate to the tank capacity and the number of persons resident in the premises connected to it or as recommended by the system’s manufacturer. The owners responsible for maintenance and renewal of the system and ensuring that parts and components are fit for purpose,  operational and are kept in good order and repair.

There is provision for service of the notice by the authority and for complaint to the District Court for alleged failure to comply with a duty of care under the act.

The groundwater directive establishes criteria in relation to quality of groundwater standards. It requires standards to be established in accordance with the water framework directive.

 Wastewater Discharge Authorisation

 A system for the licensing or certification of wastewater discharges (WWD) from areas served by Local Authority sewer networks was introduced on a phased basis commencing on 14th December 2007 in accordance with the requirements of  the Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 as amended.

 The licensing and certification process gives effect to a number of EU Directives by the imposition of restrictions or prohibitions on the discharge of dangerous substances and thus preventing or reducing the pollution of waters by wastewater discharges.

All discharges to the aquatic environment from sewerage systems owned, managed and operated by Water Services Authorities will require a wastewater discharge licence or certificate of authorisation from the EPA. The Authorities are required to apply to the Agency for a licence or certificate of authorisation by set dates depending on the population equivalent of the area served by the sewer network 

 The authorisation process provides for the Agency to place stringent conditions on the operation of such discharges to ensure that potential effects on the receiving water bodies are strictly limited and controlled. In overall terms the aim is to achieve good surface water and ground water status in addition to complying with standards and objectives established for associated protected areas by 2015 at the latest.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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