I propose to take Questions Nos. 2841, 2842 and 2844 together.
Section 70 of the Water Services Act 2007 (the 2007 Act) places a duty of care on the owner of a premises to ensure that their on-site waste water treatment system (more commonly known as a septic tank) is kept so as not to cause, or be likely to cause, a risk to human health or the environment, including a risk to water, the atmosphere, land, soil, plants or animals, or create a nuisance through odours. The duty of care provisions have been augmented by the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 and associated regulations. Any person who considers that his or her treatment system constitutes, or may constitute, a risk to human health or the environment is responsible for having any necessary remediation works carried out without delay.
The Act assigns responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make a National Inspection Plan (NIP) for domestic wastewater treatment systems. Local authorities are empowered by the 2007 Act, as amended, to direct the owner of a premises to remedy any treatment system that has been inspected and constitutes, or may constitute, a risk to human health or the environment. Neither I nor my Department has any direct role in monitoring the implementation of the Plan by the local authorities.
On 8 February 2019, I announced details of the measures being funded through my Department under the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021. This included improved funding for on-site wastewater treatment systems, which are mostly septic tanks.
The composition of the new multi-annual programme is based on recommendations from the Working Group that I established in April 2018 to conduct a review of investment needs and rural water services.
The new funding scheme will replace the grant which was brought into operation by the Domestic Waste Water Treatment System (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2013. Under certain conditions, households can receive a grant to assist them in carrying out remediation, repair or upgrading works to, or replacement of, their individual domestic wastewater treatment system.
In order to ensure greater uniformity with other measures in the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme the means test that previously applied to this grant scheme is being removed and the level of grant support is being increased to 85% of the eligible costs of installation/upgrade or €5,000, whichever is the lesser. This represents an increase of 25% and 100%, respectively, relative to the current maximum means tested grant levels of €4,000 and €2,500.
In developing the necessary regulatory and administrative changes to underpin the revised grant scheme, my Department has over recent months consulted and met with key stakeholders, including the County and City Management Association, the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Work is at an advanced stage of development for the new scheme. I expect that the process will be completed shortly when the necessary regulations dealing with the financial assistance arrangements and related administrative matters are put in place. This will enable a circular letter, terms and conditions, guidance and the application form to issue to local authorities shortly thereafter.