International Symposium on Domestic Waste Water Treatment & Disposal Systems
Edmund Burke Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
Monday, 10 September 2012
Thank you Dara for your introduction,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,
Welcome to Trinity College Dublin and to this international symposium on domestic waste water treatment and disposal systems, which Trinity is co-organising with the national Environmental Protection Agency - the EPA.
The title of this symposium sounds quite dry and academic, but the issue is anything but! Our visitors from abroad may not be aware how much the issue of wastewater has dominated the national media all year. If you were to do a search for ‘wastewater’ in newspaper archives, you might not uncover much, but try 'septic tanks'...
This issue - of on-site wastewater treatment and disposal - has stirred passions in this country, ever since the government began to draft legislation in response to the European Court of Justice’s judgement against Ireland. The Court reserved particular criticism for the lack of any national registration system.
Accordingly the government is now trying to put in place, through the EPA, a national inspection plan, which will use a risk-based approach to prioritizing areas of higher risk to human health and water quality.
Obviously this is desirable, but rural dwellers are concerned that they will have to pay to have their system inspected, and they are concerned about the cost of any remedial work which will be required as a result of such inspection.
People who live, ‘in the country’ as we say, point out that most people in towns and cities in Ireland do not pay directly for disposal of wastewater at present, and that the government has spent millions on upgrading centralized wastewater treatment plants over the last few years.
So septic tanks have become a topic of hot political debate. And there is a need for the professionals involved - mainly engineers - to inform the debate, and put some shape on it. This would be doing the country a great service.
In this regard, there have been significant advances in research in wastewater disposal over the last ten years. A new Code of Practice has been developed for on-site wastewater treatment and disposal. This Code of Practice has defined a lower limit on subsoil permeability, below which it is not possible to provide adequate percolation for on-site systems. This has caused some problems in places that have very heavy clay soils, like Leitrim, Monaghan, and Wexford, as they claim that this will effectively stop development. I understand that this is not necessarily the case, as this conference will explore, but areas of low permeability clayey subsoils now have their own specific regional concerns to add to the national rural concern about septic tanks.
So what you say here may be taken down and used against you - by our media at least...
But I do hope it will be recognised that it is important to have informed debate - and, complex as the issues are, (very few people understand the concept of permeability, or of its relationship to percolation, for example), complex as they are, they can, and must, be understood by those attempting to lead national debate.
In fact, the proposed national inspection plan, which is Ireland’s answer to the European Court of Justice ruling, will be described for the first time at the Symposium. Other papers will look at solutions for sites in areas of low permeability clayey subsoils. Still other papers will look at the environmental impact and the regulatory framework. So this Symposium should be the subject of sharp focus by the Irish public.
But I know that as experts in your field, you will welcome such scrutiny. And, of course, it’s precisely because Ireland is at such a turning point with respect to this issue, that the EPA and Trinity felt the time was right to hold this symposium, to gather together a panel of national and international experts in order to present recent findings, to discuss the content and context of new legislation, to gain constructive feedback, and to share experiences and best practice from other international jurisdictions.
This is a really vital conference and I congratulate the EPA and Trinity’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering for organising it. Over the next two days we will hear papers from experts from Denmark, the US, Scotland, Australia, London, as well, of course, as many Irish experts.
I would like to thank the organisers, and in particular Dr Laurence Gill of Trinity College for inviting me to give these words of welcome to you this morning.
You have a particularly full two days ahead of you. I think I counted 26 papers in total! I don’t know how much time you will get to enjoy Trinity but I hope that new visitors to our university will get a chance to walk round our beautiful grounds, and perhaps visit the world famous Book of Kells and the Science Gallery.
This is a particularly busy period for Trinity - and, if I may say, seems a particularly fruitful period for the School of Engineering. Three days ago, I launched the Bridge and Concrete Research in Ireland conference, and on Wednesday I will address the International Research Conference on the Biomechanics of Injury. I’m an engineer myself and I can’t help being particularly pleased by such impressive activity.
Tomorrow the world university rankings will be launched from Trinity. I will be talking, in my welcome address, about the importance, for high ranking universities, of research-led education and cutting-edge collaborative research with peer institutions. Universities now have to think globally, which means putting faith in the free movement of ideas, research, and people.
Trinity’s mission is to help make of this country an educational hub. I believe Ireland has real potential to develop in this way and that it provides the best hope for the future. Being an educational hub involves lots of things: it means excellent universities, of course, and efficient and well-publicised collaborations between research and industry. But it also means socio-political emphasis on the importance to society of university research. This conference brings home, like nothing else, the importance to society of university research in forcing informed debate on issues of current importance to all in society.
I thank all attendees for travelling to be with us, some of you from very far afield.
I look forward, like many around the country, to the findings of this conference.Thank you.