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Changes proposed to how septic tanks are managed

31 Jan 2012

Changes proposed to how septic tanks are managed

The rules around how septic tanks and other on-site wastewater systems are managed may be changing. The changes will affect about 30 percent of property owners in the district who are not connected to the city’s or Te Karaka’s sewer system and are responsible for getting rid of their own wastewater.

The changes are proposed because the current rules do not protect the environment as well as they could do, says Council's natural resources team leader Yvette Kinsella. “All on-site wastewater systems discharge some wastewater into the soil. These discharges need to be managed so they don’t affect people’s health or the environment. In some parts of the district soils don’t drain very well, there is unstable or steep land and places where the water table is high. These can all cause problems for wastewater systems.”

“There are lots of ageing wastewater systems in the district. We are not proposing that everyone should have a new advanced treatment system. Conventional systems can work well in the right location if they are cared for. Cleaning and maintaining your system helps to prolong its life and makes sure it is working effectively. Although it is encouraged, there is nothing in the current Discharges Plan that formally requires people to clean or maintain their systems.”

For those who live in higher density areas like Wainui, Makaraka, and rural townships where there are higher densities of septic tanks, the proposed change would mean owners would have to clean their septic tanks every 5 years or when it is two thirds full of sludge – whichever happens first.

“There are a lot of systems close together in these areas and a greater risk to the environment and public health,” Ms Kinsella says.

Other changes would affect all septic tank owners. It is proposed that the plan is changed:

  • to allow different rules for different types of wastewater systems
  • so a resource consent is not needed for systems that meet certain conditions
  • so systems are placed away from difficult areas or where there are underground obstructions
  • to ensure a higher level of treatment if the soil can’t adequately process wastewater
  • so owners clearly know what a “failing” system is
  • to make maintenance compulsory for all “advanced” treatment systems.

Information packs were sent out last week outlining proposed changes to Council’s Discharges Plan. The information packs include a summary of the changes, a submission form and the booklet Your Septic System – a User’s Guide to Home Wastewater Systems about how to look after your septic tank. On-going public education about the dealing with wastewater and updated guidelines for designers, installers and people servicing systems are also proposed in the plan.

“We really want people to have a look at these proposed changes and let us know what they think about them. The full Discharges Plan Change (Plan change 1) and submission form are available on Council’s website. People who are unhappy about the proposal should make a submission to Council, and will have the right to be heard in a hearing.

A series of information meetings are being held in townships throughout the district. The first one is at the Matawai Fire Brigade Rooms tonight (Tuesday 31 January) at 5.15pm. The meeting on Wednesday 8 February at Makaraka will also cover options to reticulate properties in this area. All affected property owners are invited to come along and ask any questions they may have about the proposed changes.  Here's the meeting schedule.