THE Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is exploring the possibility that sewage from septic tanks is contaminating bathing water at Brown’s Bay, the Times can reveal.
Following a water quality test at the popular tourist spot, it was found that the bathing water contained microbiological contamination and was not up to standard.
NIEA then set about trying to find the sources of the pollution, and discovered a number of septic tank systems serving homes in the Brown’s Bay area did not have a consent to discharge effluent, which is required under the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.
As a result, the Department of the Environment has determined that sewage is one of the possible sources of contamination and has now sent out letters to 29 residents, advising them that they must apply for consent to discharge at their properties.
The Larne Times has seen a copy of one of these letters, addressed to a resident of Ferris Bay Road and dated January 16, 2012. The letter instructs that the owner/occupier of the property has 28 days from receipt of the correspondence to submit an application for consent to discharge, along with the appropriate fee. The cost of applying to discharge into a waterway is £250, and to discharge into underground stratum, such as soakaway drains, is £100.
However, a consultant for Larne-based architecture firm English and Drummond has urged residents to ensure they seek advice before lodging their application with the Department.
“I would strongly recommend that anyone who has been asked to apply for consent to discharge should speak to an expert first. If you don’t put your application in correctly, it may not get approved and you could end up not being able to sell your house as a result,” he said.
The consultant, who did not wish to be named, also warned that NIEA could be “opening up a can of worms” for Brown’s Bay residents.
He told the Times: “I have no doubt that what NIEA is doing is 100 per cent right legally and is in the best interests of the local environment, but is it right morally?
“When you apply for consent, someone from the Department will come out to inspect your current sewage system and carry out tests. If it is found that you need to upgrade your system from a septic tank to a small treatment plant, it could end up costing you thousands of pounds.
“I know a 90-year-old woman who lives out at Brown’s Bay in a wee cottage. Can you imagine how distressed she would be if she was told she had to spend about £8,000 upgrading her sewage system?
“Also, some local residents may be unable to upgrade their current systems, as they live in small cottages with little or no garden space. These people may simply not have the room to install a treatment plant on their properties.
“In my opinion, this whole process could have been carried out much better. The Department could have gone out and spoke to residents first, rather than issuing these letters without any warning.”
A spokeswoman for NIEA said the DoE would provide “guidance and support” to any householder during the application process.
“If it is determined that any existing system is not providing sufficient treatment, the applicant will be advised of the standard of system required. There will generally be a variety of options, and in cases where there is insufficient or unsuitable ground available for installation of a soakaway, other disposal options may be available,” she added.
“The relevant application documents, including guidance on the application process and advice on completing the application form, are available from NIEA Water Management Unit, 17 Antrim Road, Lisburn, BT28 3AL, telephone no. 028 92623181, or at http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/water-home/regulation_of_discharges_industrial/septictanks.htm”
The consultant also urged NI Water to consider installing a public sewer system at the Brown’s Bay area, similar to the one at Millbay.
The Times put this suggestion to NIW and we were told: “Without an economic appraisal of a possible combined treatment solution to Brown’s Bay residents, any potential treatment solution would be assessed on the technical feasibility of whether a significant number of properties can be fed into a common sewer by gravity.
“Where there is no existing public sewer and where there is an insufficient number of properties or increased costs due to technical difficulty (where flows have to be pumped uphill to a suitable treatment works), an NI Water scheme might not be economically viable.
“Furthermore, where no existing suitable treatment site exists, NI Water would have to take into account the time, availability and cost of procuring a site for any treatment facility.
“In effect, NI Water would generally only be involved if there can be a public sewer (more than one property) and where it is economical to do so. Otherwise, the responsibility would sit with the house-holder,” the spokesperson concluded.