Tuesday 08 January 2019
The French national auditor has called for wholesale reform of the system of statutory control of septic tank installations.
Around 5 million households (20% of the population) in France use a septic tank system for their sewage treatment and disposal.
Local councils have responsibility for oversight of the installations, which they undertake through delegated bodies, called Service Public de l'assainissement non collectif (SPANC), generally run through an inter-municipal council.
The SPANCs are financed by a charge on households, and given the task of protection of the environment against pollution caused by possible nonconforming installations.
In a report published last month, the Cour de Comptes stated that: ‘the services encounter difficulties in the execution of their responsibilities, difficulties that are increased by disparate structures and practices.'
The Court noted three problems in particular for the SPANCs:
In short, the authors argue that the structures in place to manage a now complex regulatory system were inadequate, an outcome that has been inevitable since elaboration of the national plan over 10 years ago. Local councils and consumer bodies have regularly commented on the lack of adequate financial or technical resources for the SPANCs to properly perform the role.
The auditors were critical of a lack of harmonisation in the adoption of regulation and practices due to the residual powers that resided with local mayors.
As a result, the auditors proposed that new structures be created to manage the role.
In large measure this amounted to greater involvement of the departmental councils and the water agencies, and a reduction in the powers of local mayors.
In replying on the report, the French environment ministry rejected most of the recommendations, stating that they were either not appropriate or that provisions to address the auditors concerns already existed or were being drafted.