Cash boost to help septic tank owners clean-up their act

A septic tank buried in a back yard.

Thousands of people across the North West could be polluting the environment without knowing it – all because they don’t love their septic tanks, according to water operator United Utilties. Now a new project to help them clean up their act has won a £50,000 grant from the firm’s “Catchment Wise” fund. But a community of “septic tank crusaders” will be needed to lead the way.
Septic tanks are miniature sewage treatment works which store and treat the waste of homes which are not connected to the public sewer network. They return partly treated water to local water courses or into the ground. When they work right, they’re brilliant, says a UU press release. But if they’re treated badly, or not maintained, they can smell, flood, pollute and even lead to illness – bad news for people, water and the environment.
Working with organisations such as The Rivers Trusts, Project officer Emma McColm from Morecambe Bay Partnership will co-ordinate the project to help tank owners sweeten their systems. “On average each household flushes away some 300 litres of wastewater a day. With thousands of septic tanks across the region that’s a lot of dirty water which could find its way into the environment.” she said.
“Septic tanks need the right care, and many people who’ve just inherited one after moving from an area with mains drainage probably don’t always know what to do. We want to help them avoid a horrible and potentially costly mess.”
Septic tanks have been identified as a contributor to the poor quality of some of the North West’s rivers, canals, lakes and groundwaters – which can also have an impact on public or private water supplies. Across England only just over a quarter of water bodies are classed as “good” or better. Many affected rivers flow into designated bathing waters.
“It’s early days but we’ll soon be asking septic tank owners to help us by taking part in focus groups, amnesties and septic tank surgeries ahead of an innovative education campaign. In return we’ll teach them how to care for their septic tank and there’ll be free goodies on offer. One thing we’d really like to do is establish the UK’s first septic tank community co-operative,” said Emma.
Paul Henbrey, who oversees United Utilities Catchment Wise grant fund said: “This is a really exciting project. Although United Utilities spends millions upgrading our own sewage treatment works, we can’t cure all water quality issues on our own. The North West has the highest numbers of septic tanks in the UK. Imagine the benefits to the environment if every one of them was working as it should.”
Look out for opportunities to get involved as the project develops, or contact the team for more information at