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  1.  
    We have a cesspit on our land that services a farm and a set of approximately 14 apartments and two houses. It only gets empties when we complain about the smell, the rest of the time it's left alone. The effluent chamber feeds into a drainage field a corrugated roof with holes in it) which in turn then goes into a culvert and goes off on its merry way parallel to our brook. I've no idea where it empties but I suspect the brook.

    The rules say a cesspit has to be sized for the useage, which this can't be as it's the size normally used for a single house. They also can;t be within a certain distance of a river or stream, this one is literally 10 ft away from a stream.

    The other issue is that the people in the apartments are tenants and so probably won't be aware that they are connected to a cesspit and so won't be using cleaning products that are 'cesspit friendly', i.e. that don't kill the bacteria that breaks down the waste and processes it.

    I contacted the Environmental agency to voice my concerns and they came and inspected it and said "yes, that's fine", though how just looking down a manhole lets them know it's fine I don't know. There was no attempt to determine the size of the chambers, drainage field and the number of people it serves, nor did they attempt to discover where the drainage culvert goes to once it exits the drainage field.

    They did get in touch with the agency that rent out the apartments and told them they had to empty it regularly. They did so, but two years later, they haven't been back to empty it again.

    Our house is attached to a sewer line that passes the apartment complex but it seems that the mains sewer line is too high up for the apartment to connect to it (the main sewer pipe actually crosses above the apartment sewer line to the cesspit.

    I'm stumped as to what to do next. Do I take on the responsibility to periodically request that the cesspit is emptied, even though it's nothing to do with me? I'd prefer to have it removed completely as I fear it's contaminating our land. The environmental agency seems to be totally disinterested, but I was wondering if anyone on here knew who else I could contact to get this cesspit checked and hopefully removed?
  2.  
    Cesspit or septic tank?

    A septic tank is a (black) water treatment facility that processes and passes water on to the next stage, e.g. leach field.

    Isn't a cesspit usually just a very large bucket that needs regular emptying.

    I'm not sure but perhaps the terminology might make a difference to the response you get from the various bodies, e.g. is it possible that the EA weren't interested in drainage because they didn't think it had any?
  3.  
    First there are 2 types of old fashioned private foul water systems. A cesspit - which is a closed (water tight) tank that is suposed to be emptied when full and a septic tank in which bacteria attack the sewage and process it into something that can be put into a soak away or a stream.
    A cesspit usually fails because it leaks and does not get emptied often enough. They leak because they are made to leak as it is too expensive to empty.
    A septic tank fails because the tanks are usually too small to work properly without the addition of oxygen to promote the work of the aerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria would do the job but are much slower working, hence the need for a large tank. (the modern self-contained sewage systems (bio-rock and others) rely on air in some manner to overcome this problem).

    So what do you have? both require licence to operate and when I was living in England the water authority would come around to see the receipts for the emptying of the cesspits. If thy judges that there were insufficient receipts then you had to prove what was happening or fines could be levied. For septic tanks the outflow has to each certain standards otherwise the septic tank is deemed not to be working properly and again fines can be levied.

    The EA looking down a manhole and saying that is fine is a cop-out.

    Get the EA out again and complain about the pollution and ask them whether it is a cesspit or septic tank. If cesspit ask them how ofteni their opinion should it be emptied, (when its full is not an acceptable answer because you tell them it leaks). If they say its a septic tank ask them to test the outflow to confirm it is working and ask where the licence says the out flow should go.

    Yes you can take on the responsibility to periodically request that the cesspit is emptied, even though it's nothing to do with me but do this through the letting agency as they should pay for it.

    The best solution would be to connect to the main sewer line. All it would need is a water tight chamber with a submersible slurry pump operated by a float switch with a non return valve to prevent back flow from the sewer line. Its nor rocket science and frequently used over here. Of course the only way to get this done will be to make such a fuss to the agents, landlords, EA and anyone else you can think of so that the connection to the main line is the easier / cheaper option
    • CommentAuthormarktime
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2016 edited
     
    It's certainly a septic tank as a conservative estimate of daily inflow has to be around 5000-6000 l per day and the OP mentions a two year period after last emptying and a drain field so it's really a misnomer to call it a ceesspit.

    As to sizing it needs to be approx twice the volume of the inflow so the tank should be around 12 m3 but the main challenge is the drain field and it's proximity to a stream is really the weak point that should be the focus of remedial work and as Peter says, the key to getting this system connected to the main sewer line.
  4.  
    Posted By: Pile-o-StoneWe have a cesspit on our land that services a farm and a set of approximately 14 apartments and two houses.


    Do you have some sort of wayleave agreement or legal document allowing them to operate the sewage disposal system on your land? If not, why can't you ask them to remove it or ask a solicitor whether you can charge them. If the charge can be high enough they might consider connecting to the main sewer.
  5.  
    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: skyewright</cite>Isn't a cesspit usually just a very large bucket that needs regular emptying.</blockquote> Yes
    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: marktime</cite>It's certainly a septic tank as a conservative estimate of daily inflow has to be around 5000-6000 l per day and the OP mentions a two year period after last emptying and a drain field so it's really a misnomer to call it a ceesspit.</blockquote>
    I beg to differ, until you see the original plans and permissions you don't know what it is. The usual way of making a cesspit was to place 1 or 2 wine bottles (empty) in the wall at measured places usually at the 2/3 full level then put the waterproof render on, call the authorities for the final inspection and test and when all was declared OK and signed off you then bashed a hole in the render where the bottles were and this reduced your empting charges - to nil - for years to come.
    Cesspits are not allowed to leak and I have never seen one that didn't because if they don't they are unaffordable. Septic tanks are not leaking buckets (aka cesspits) they must have at least 2 connected chambers (a settlement chamber and a treatment chamber)and a point where the outflow can be collected for testing. Of course what was originally planned may not be in existence today as unauthorised 'upgrades' may have been made, again the EA should take an interest in this aspect.

    Pile-o-Stone
    You could look at the LA planning dept. as the PP for the apartments may be available and this will have the foul drainage system detailed on it.

    I would suggest that you get in touch with the EA by registered letter asking them to inspect the installation because it is causing pollution and tell them that you are not sure if it is a cesspit or septic tank but it has an out flow or leaks so could they bring their relevant equipment to test the outflow to ensure it meets the required standard, perhaps also write to the landlord and the agents informing them of the problems.

    It is possible for a leach field to become exhausted, i.e. block up with sediment over the years and in this event a septic tank will fail to operate as such. There are defined standards for the absorption rates of leach fields, which is another thing the EA should check out (because you think the whole system is no longer fit for purpose).

    If the EA come down and tell the agents to empty the pit then keep an eye on it and when it is full again get the EA to tell the agents to get it emptied. I fear it's all about making such a nuisance that it is easier / cheaper to put in a proper solution (connection to the mains) than for the responsible parties to keep getting all the hassle (= expense) of a failing system.

    What is on your deeds regarding the system and the liabilities for its maintenance?
    • CommentAuthorMarkyP
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2016
     
    in your post you say the tank is on your land, serving a farm and apartments? Under what legal basis is the septic tank present on your land and what rights do the others have to drain into it? How did a septic tank sized for a house come into use on your land for a farm and apartments?
  6.  
    Sorry, wrong terminology, it's a Septic tank. It has a main chamber that then leaks into a drainfield. Good advice about getting the Environmental agency to confirm that the outflow is clean and getting them to determine where it outflows to. I'll also ask for calculations on the size of the first chamber compared with the amount of soil going into it (I'll also read up on them so I know what the chambers are called!!)

    Unfortunately there is an agreement on the land deeds that allows the septic tank and access to empty and maintain it.

    I'll have another go with the Env. Agency once I've sorted out my planning issues with my solar panels. I only have the stamina for one fight at a time.

    Thanks as always for the advice, chaps.
    • CommentAuthorskyewright
    • CommentTimeMay 9th 2016 edited
     
    Posted By: Pile-o-StoneUnfortunately there is an agreement on the land deeds that allows the septic tank and access to empty and maintain it.

    The wording of that agreement might be useful?

    The phrase "with rights come responsibilities" comes to mind...

    Edit: turned HTML back on...
  7.  
    Posted By: Pile-o-StoneSorry, wrong terminology, it's a Septic tank. It has a main chamber that then leaks into a drainfield.

    When I installed a septic tank some 40+ years ago it needed 2 chambers and a collection point to sample the out flow. 1 chamber was not enough. (the first chamber acted as a settlement tank without which I was told that the leach field would quickly silt up)

    A quick look here gives rules about septic tanks.

    https://www.gov.uk/permits-you-need-for-septic-tanks/you-have-a-septic-tank-or-small-sewage-treatment-plant

    An interesting point is that if you discharge more than 2000lts per day you need a permit. There is a calculator to estimate usage based on number of dwellings and bedrooms, 17 apartments and 3 houses blows the calculator, however 5 properties and 7 bedrooms gives an estimate of 2400lts/ day.
    So I would guess they need a permit!!!

    Another item in the rules is maintenance

    Maintenance
    You must have your septic tank or treatment plant emptied at least once a year.The company that gets rid of your waste sludge must be a registered waste carrier.

    So that is another thing that is not being done

    And

    Check for pollution
    You must check the area where you release sewage once a month for signs of pollution.
    If you release sewage into the ground, check for:
    • sewage smells
    • signs that your sewage isn’t draining properly (eg pools of water in the area where you release sewage)

    And

    Keep records
    You must keep records of work done to empty, maintain or repair your septic tank or sewage treatment plant, eg invoices, bills or receipts.
    You must also keep a written record of any:
    • accidents you’ve had with your equipment or incidents that could have led to an accident
    • problems you’ve had with your equipment, how you dealt with them and what you’re doing to prevent the same problems happening again
    • complaints you’ve received about your equipment and how you resolved them

    So make complaints to the operators so that when you complain to the EA you can inform them of the complaints and tell them to check the operators records.
    It would appear that there is enough on the web site (and it an easy read) to build a case to send to the EA with a demand that action is taken
  8.  
    Sounds like the bugs in your tank have been killed off. The cure is a leaflet drop to all connected to the tank as some idiots will be cleaning using bleach and killing the bugs off. Once thats sorted you will need to seed the tank with a fresh set of bugs.
    • CommentAuthorTriassic
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    If they have no way leave agreement in place you could simply ask them to remove the tank.
    • CommentAuthorskyewright
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: renewablejohnSounds like the bugs in your tank have been killed off. The cure is a leaflet drop to all connected to the tank as some idiots will be cleaning using bleach and killing the bugs off. Once thats sorted you will need to seed the tank with a fresh set of bugs.

    If the tank is too small then it's too small, no mater how healthy the biota.
  9.  
    Posted By: skyewright
    Posted By: renewablejohnSounds like the bugs in your tank have been killed off. The cure is a leaflet drop to all connected to the tank as some idiots will be cleaning using bleach and killing the bugs off. Once thats sorted you will need to seed the tank with a fresh set of bugs.

    If the tank is too small then it's too small, no mater how healthy the biota.

    And like the tenants are going to be bothered!
    To me it seems the EA should be pushed to get involved as there are a whole lot of regs being either ignored or flouted from not having the required permits to failing totally in the required management. Septic tanks are not a fit and forget item !!
    • CommentAuthorgyrogear
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: Pile-o-StoneI've no idea where it empties but I suspect the brook.


    "their cesspit, my land"
    anagrams to
    "dampishly intersect"...

    gg
    :sad:
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Good advice about getting the Environmental agency to confirm that the outflow is clean and getting them to determine where it outflows to


    Except if it fails to meet required standards who is legally responsible for the discharge? Perhaps you as landowner?

    I would get the legal rights and responsibilities clarified before you involve the EA too much.
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Google found...

    http://www.conveyancer.org.uk/CLCSite/media/PDFs/New-rules-for-small-sewage-discharges-article-for-legal-and-property-professionals.pdf

    Who is responsible for complying with the rules?

    Compliance is no longer automatically the responsibility of the occupier of a property or the person who occupies the land where the actual discharge takes place. . Instead it places responsibility on the owner of the property or land where the septic tank or treatment plant is located or being used.

    continues..
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016 edited
     
    Unfortunately there is an agreement on the land deeds that allows the septic tank and access to empty and maintain it.


    Were either the houses or apartments built and connected after the agreement was added to the deeds?
    • CommentAuthormarktime
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: CWatters
    Unfortunately there is an agreement on the land deeds that allows the septic tank and access to empty and maintain it.


    Were either the houses or apartments built and connected after the agreement was added to the deeds?


    That's the part of the paper trail that surely puts the onus on the users as they have entered into an agreement that gives them access.

    That paper trail probably goes back to when the septic tank was built on the original farmer's land to serve the farmhouse and two farm cottages. At some point the land was subdivided to build the house that Pile-o-stone now occupies with the septic tank and the apartment block. Why 14 apartments were connected to a single septic tank is interesting and there must be paperwork that allows them to discharge into the septic tank.

    I'd suggest that the tank is too small for the liquid load so that the transit time is too short and raw sewage is being disharged into the drainfield. Both the tank and the drainfield then are the source of the stink.

    If you can show that the septic tank is too small for the existing load and has to be scrapped, wouldn't that be the trigger to get everyone onto the mains?
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
  10.  
    Posted By: Peter_in_Hungary
    Posted By: skyewright
    Posted By: renewablejohnSounds like the bugs in your tank have been killed off. The cure is a leaflet drop to all connected to the tank as some idiots will be cleaning using bleach and killing the bugs off. Once thats sorted you will need to seed the tank with a fresh set of bugs.

    If the tank is too small then it's too small, no mater how healthy the biota.

    And like the tenants are going to be bothered!
    To me it seems the EA should be pushed to get involved as there are a whole lot of regs being either ignored or flouted from not having the required permits to failing totally in the required management. Septic tanks are not a fit and forget item !!


    They will be bothered once they realise the cost of sorting out the problem compared to a small change in lifestyle.
  11.  
    Posted By: skyewright
    Posted By: renewablejohnSounds like the bugs in your tank have been killed off. The cure is a leaflet drop to all connected to the tank as some idiots will be cleaning using bleach and killing the bugs off. Once thats sorted you will need to seed the tank with a fresh set of bugs.

    If the tank is too small then it's too small, no mater how healthy the biota.


    The tank will be designed to discharge clean water which it can only do if the treatment plant is working correctly. It certainly will not be two small if it is a farm as it will have been designed to take the waste from a herd of cows. The actual amount of solids from that number of apartments is negligible compared to the amount of waste handled daily on an average farm.
    • CommentAuthorgyrogear
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: renewablejohnas it will have been designed to take the waste from a herd of cows.


    is it really feasible to have a septic tank, catering for livestock ?

    Is this generally done ?

    gg
    (city-dweller...)
    • CommentAuthorskyewright
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: marktimeWhy 14 apartments were connected to a single septic tank is interesting and there must be paperwork that allows them to discharge into the septic tank.

    Is it perhaps recent enough that the planning details are on line?
  12.  
    Posted By: gyrogear
    Posted By: renewablejohnas it will have been designed to take the waste from a herd of cows.


    is it really feasible to have a septic tank, catering for livestock ?

    Is this generally done ?

    gg
    (city-dweller...)


    Waste from farm animals is dealt with separately from the farm house sewage and it does not go into the foul water system of the farm house. There are strict rules about the management of effluent from farm animals which vary depending upon the type of animal and the intensity under which they are kept.
  13.  
    Posted By: skyewright
    Posted By: marktimeWhy 14 apartments were connected to a single septic tank is interesting and there must be paperwork that allows them to discharge into the septic tank.

    Is it perhaps recent enough that the planning details are on line?

    As I said above at least it should have an EA permit. If there is no permit and one has to be applied for, then typically an application would need to meet todays standards and not the standard of the time it was constructed. From the brief description here it would appear that it would fail - which could be good news as I suspect the easiest (cheapest) fix would be connection to the main sewer line with the use of a pump.
  14.  
    The apartments are all within a listed manor house that was converted into apartments and (I think) a couple of self-contained houses (I guess, they're called duplex apartments?). I couldn't say when they were converted but I suspect a good time ago. I can't find anything on the planning portal about it anyway. I live in a mill building and the farm is behind us. They were all originally part of the same complex, owned by the one family, hence the septic tank being on what is now my land. When our house was converted the guy who did it fitted the pipe to the mains sewer and was granted an easement to go across other people's land. It was a bit of a bodge job, so it's not a very large mains pipe and it's not buried very deep. The farmhouse is connected to the cesspit, rather than the actual farm.

    The drainfield is a tad dodgy. It's basically a 10ft deep, brick lined chamber with corrugated roof material at the bottom and steel girders across the top with loose flags over the whole. I fenced it off as I didn't want my kids falling into it as it doesn't seem to be the most robust structure.

    Thanks again for taking an interest in this, guys.
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Posted By: Pile-o-StoneI couldn't say when they were converted but I suspect a good time ago. I can't find anything on the planning portal about it anyway.

    I think you should be able to access older planning applications on paper at your council offices. They are public records if my memory serves. It definitely sounds like chasing down all the paper trails is a good start to deciding how to resolve your problem.
    • CommentAuthorTriassic
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Why should you do all the leg work. If there is no legal right for the equipment to be on your land, ask them to remove it as its causing a nuisance.

    Maybe give then a date by which you expect action (a wayleave agreement, a maintenance plan (one you will expect them to keep to), an annual rent payable to you for the land they are using), after which you will take action to stop the flow... fit a bung up the pipe.
    • CommentAuthormarktime
    • CommentTimeMay 10th 2016
     
    Pile-o-Stone this is what a drain field looks like. What you describe may be a distribution point to the actual drain field. If you say that liquid effluent exits the structure you describe and flows in a culvert then there is a serious disconnect with what should be installed.

    Be clear in your terminology as the confusion you cause may damage your case. Is the septic tank described as a septic tank on your agreements?
      Drain field.jpg
   
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