The considerations explained herein about the legal aspects of water utilization must be regarded as a concerned citizen's manifesto on water policies.
The following pages will be useful to water policy advisors and decision-makers, particularly in many parts of Europe and North America, as well as in those regions of the world that may be tempted to reproduce unsustainable supply and sanitation techniques. Arid and semi-arid regions of the world are traditionally and naturally more sensitive to the significance of rainwater harvesting, and it is to be hoped that official policies in these regions will be more in line with this concern: therefore, the considerations herein may (or may not) apply to those regions.
Managing one’s water as per the EAUTARCIE concept is more than a simple technical option: it is a social choice expressing a highly political standpoint. As such, the system’s prime quality is to conduce to a school of responsible management.
The text within this page was first published in French on www.eautarcie.com:
The original text has since been adapted and was first published in English on this page at www.eautarcie.org:
Last update: 2012-01-29
Although not expressly provided for in the law, the TRAISELECT purification system is permitted where there are no sewers. The DDASS (France’s Departmental Directorate of Health and Social Affairs) requires the establishment of a technical report containing the detailed description of the proposed system. The description and explanation of the system’s operation are particularly important because, unlike what happens in Belgium, French officials are not yet familiar with the selective treatment of wastewater.
The dispersion of wastewater in the soil is a recognized purification technique in France, as long as the specifications of the dispersal system meet the standards in force.
If treated water is discharged into a natural or artificial watercourse, the administration may require the analysis of the discharged effluent, which must meet industry discharge standards.
The provisions concerning the dispersion of treated water in the soil allow a simplification of the system. If the treated water is not recovered for other uses, simply sending the grey water into a septic tank (which thus acts as a grey water batch reactor) provides sufficient purification for dispersion into the soil. Such a solution is very economical, while providing effective protection of groundwater. Contrary to what is done in Belgium, this perfectly reasonable solution is accepted in France.
When discharged towards a natural or artificial watercourse (i.e. discharge in a surface water), grey water issuing form the anaerobic reactor must prior undergo further treatment. For explanations, go to the chapter on the treatment of grey water.
|Biochemical oxygen demand
|Chemical oxygen demand
These standards are a transposition of the European Community guideline values. The French Government was also obliged to apply these same values.
The latest version of the Walloon Government Decree on wastewater treatment does not alter discharge standards. However, in areas with individual wastewater treatment systems, it requires the placement of government-approved septic systems. It authorizes electromechanical systems as well as lagooning systems (using plants for phytoremediation) to treat combined wastewater. All other systems, including TRAISELECT are now prohibited. Until recently, the law allowed any system, provided that the treated wastewater complied with discharge standards. This is no longer the case, since January 1st, 2010.
Walloon authorities do not recognize the purifying power of soil. Infiltrating wastewater into the soil is only allowed when it is impossible to discharge directly into a natural or artificial watercourse.
Despite the huge environmental impact differences, Walloon authorities apply the same standards to infiltration in the soil and discharge in surface waters. This absurd measure, contradicted by scientific data, is environmentally harmful and entails considerable costs to users. Contrary to what is happening in France, in order to meet the standards, the user would need to choose the complete TRAISELECT system. However, since January 1st 2010, this system is no longer allowed. See the chapters on Wastewater treatment policies.
The Walloon Region offers a premium for autonomous treatment systems, as long as they are government-approved.
For those who live in areas reserved for individual wastewater treatment systems and who, against all odds, decide not to pollute, they can attempt the installation of a complete TRAISELECT system. This system is not commercially available. As a result, no company has exclusive installation rights, which reduces its cost.
To obtain the government premium, a user who wishes to personally implement this purification system must prove that the system works better than any approved system. For this, one must hire a government-approved testing laboratory to sample the water issuing from the system (at the finishing pond for example) for further lab analysis. An analysis report must accompany the license application. In case of refusal by authorities, the user must build up a dossier with the help of a lawyer, towards a legal action against the Walloon Region because of truncated transpositions of the European Directive 271/91. In fact, neither Article I nor the first and last paragraphs of Article 3 of the said directive have been transcribed in the Walloon law. In addition, when presenting the performance of the installed system in comparison with those of an approved system, the user, as plaintiff, may ask the following legal question: by what right can the authorities ban the use of a system that is more efficient than the approved one? This is a violation of the European principle of using the best and least expensive available technology.
One of the laboratories of the Université de Liege (in fact, the former Luxembourg University Foundation) is authorized to make such analyses. Contact: Professor Francis Rossillon, tel. 061/22.42.77.
In areas serviced by a mains sewerage network, there is an obligation to connect homes to the sewers. However, the law provides for two exceptions:
Under the law, a set-up of this type would need to be decommissioned once sewers are installed. TRAISELECT users were even invited to discharge their domestic wastewater into a city sewer, which itself discharges combined wastewater into a river, without treatment.
In disputed cases, the TRAISELECT user should convene a municipal or regional official to take water samples from his TRAISELECT finishing pond for further testing by an official lab. After obtaining the certificate of analysis, he must demand that the same be done of the water issuing form the sanitation plant to which he is required to be connected. Both documents must be submitted with an application for an Environmental Class-3 Permit.
When submitting the application for an existing home, one must emphasize that the treatment system in question (TRAISELECT) existed before the requirement to connect to the sewer.
New Homes in Areas with Centralized Wastewater Systems
For a new home, it is not legally possible to purify one’s water using TRAISELECT. It takes some courage to go against municipal policy. Such an illegal act constitutes a sort of environmental civil disobedience. It becomes a noble struggle to assert one’s right not to pollute, against the will of the authorities. If the law is bad, it must be changed! To deal with the authorities, it is best to enlist the support of one or more environmental protection associations. The media can also help by reporting phases of this fight for a cleaner world. A group of citizens can initiate legal action against the Walloon Region and confront the State Council on the basis of a truncated transposition of the Article 1 and the last paragraph of Article 3 of European Directive 271/91.
Once these articles are transcribed in Walloon Law, the regional government will no longer have a basis to refuse the installation of a TRAISELECT system, even in areas serviced by centralized mains sewerage. This would actually enforce the intangible European principle of using the best available technology where economically acceptable.
The ambiguous situation to which TRAISELECT users are confronted poses a difficult legal problem. Under the above-stated European principle (mentioned in the last paragraph of Article 3 of EC Directive 271/91), the TRAISELECT user can submit the following question before the European Court: can a person be forced to use a purification technology that is less efficient than the one propounded by that person?
Under this article of the EC directive, one must always choose the technique that presents environment’s «best interest». The problem is that this article was not fully transcribed in Walloon law. In other words, in the Walloon Government Decree of November 7 2002, the authorities should have included exemptions for when a system performs better than mains sewerage.
In fact, from the moment a household ...
...you need not even provide analytic proof that the system properly functions. Such evidence should only be produced in case of discharge into a stream.
The truncated transcript of the EC Directive was by no means an inadvertent omission from the Walloon Parliament, because those who drafted and reviewed the bills know my work (the Walloon Region funded my lab work in developing the TRAISELECT system at the University of Mons-Hainaut), and most know me personally. For years, I have repeatedly highlighted and questioned this omission, without success. The decision to ignore this issue categorizes the Walloon Region as a member state that has chosen to downgrade environmental protection, against the EC Directive.
The TRAISELECT system is little known outside of Belgium, France, and my native Hungary (where it is known as «KEGYEDI»). However, it remains likely that the regulations in force elsewhere in the world don’t contain specific provisions allowing an openness to the selective treatment of grey water in systems such as TRAISELECT.
Those who wish to implement truly sustainable techniques must overcome many obstacles. They will need to build up an appropriate dossier, supported by the information available on the present website, among others. I also believe that they will need to present analytical results to their local, regional or national authorities, to convince them of the validity of this approach. Without appropriate resources or funds, a single homeowner may find this endeavour more difficult at the individual level, compared to a collective approach, such as in the implementation of an eco-village. And of course, this approach necessarily requires a separate treatment of human dejecta, including resorting to the BLT (or Joseph Jenkins’ «Humanure» toilet).
I recently counselled a Swiss construction company that applies the principles of healthy environmentally-friendly buildings, wishing to extend its approach to water management. Here is an example of my recommendations. Such recommendations should be tailored to each specific situation.
Strategically, the company would first build a few set-ups of the complete TRAISELECT system (with an ornamental finishing pond), to use as demonstration test-cases. The effluent from these ponds will naturally comply with the highest standards. It should be emphasized that the complete system provides unsurpassed protection in high mountain areas, where it is impossible to infiltrate the treated water in the usually scant (or nonexistent) soil. In high mountain tourist facilities for example, some BLT models can be easily managed, even in hotels. You can even provide toilet effluent disposal via containers that are eventually transported to toilet composting centres in the valley.
Although the complete TRAISELECT system is not technically justified in areas where soil conditions permit grey water infiltration in the soil, one must pursue water purification to its ultimate extent, given the inadequacies of current laws. Thus, from the start, the company must prepare the second stage of the procedure: to convince official sanitation engineers and technicians on the fundamental differences of the proposed system, most especially of the lesser environmental impacts of grey water, not containing human dejecta. Current laws established on the basis of combined grey water / black water can in no way be applied to grey water only.
For this, one must establish a log of water analyses carried out on the wastewater discharged from the system. In these analyses, the company shall, in each case, need to do two tests: a first on the water discharged into the receiving milieu downstream from the finishing pond, and the other on the water discharged from the grey water batch reactor.
The first test will pose no problem: there is currently no system on the market that can even approach the quality of wastewater treated by the complete TRAISELECT system. This is obviously not «miraculous» because it’s simply the consequence of having removed human dejecta from the wastewater.
As for the water coming out of the grey water batch reactor, it must never be discharged into surface waters, but must always be infiltrated into the soil. We must insist on the fact that this water contains virtually no nitrogen, which will be clearly reflected in the water analyses. At this level, you need to compare the grey water reactor’s effluent to the effluent discharged by the best government-approved systems. Nitrogen being the key element of environmental harmfulness from treated wastewater, it obviously becomes necessary to compare the various types of nitrogen content (nitrates, ammonia and organic nitrogen) between the two systems.
You must then point out to the sanitation engineers that once infiltrated into the soil, a high grey water COD and BOD5 content has no environmental impact. Therefore, to assert that grey water discharged from the grey water pit «does not comply with discharge standards» due to a high COD and BOD5 content is utter nonsense. You need only infiltrate the water into the soil, making sure not to discharge it into surface waters. In contrast, conventional combined wastewater (black and grey water), with a low COD and BOD5 content will have an enormous environmental impact (pollution by nitrates) due to its high nitrogen content.
I recommend proceeding to two experiments on the effluent discharged from the grey water batch reactor, to be presented to officials reviewing the system.
Fill a bucket with grey water out of the batch reactor (the water is cloudy and smells bad) and expose it for 10 to 20 days in daylight outside. After this time (sometimes even after a few days) the water in the bucket has lost its smell, decanted (or settled), and become clear. Then take a water sample from the water’s surface, and send it to a lab for analysis (COD, BOD5, nitrogen content (nitrate, ammonia and organic nitrogen), suspended solids, pH, electrical conductivity). This analysis must also be compared, based on the same parameters, to the wastewater discharged from government-approved systems.
The purpose of this experiment is to show that the complete TRAISELECT system is not a phytoremediation system (i.e. a purification system using plants). The wastewater’s purification simply comes from sunlight and oxygen in the air. In its operating principle, this system fits in an altogether separate category from all those phytoremediation systems currently marketed.
Take a plastic bucket and drill out holes at the bottom to create a sieve, such that water can drain from the bucket, but not soil. Fill the bucket sieve halfway with relatively permeable topsoil (preferably with very little clay or sand). Pour in water collected from the grey water batch reactor’s overflow: the soil in the bucket sieve acts as a filter. Collect the filtered water and send it for lab analysis.
This experiment aims to show that grey water issuing from the batch reactor has no negative impact on ground water quality after having passed through a few cm of soil. One will observe the very low nitrogen content in the water (in fact such water will contain less nitrates than what can be found in most mains water at household taps).
Based on the results of these experiments, request the approval of the proposed system (which may require a small amendment to the law regulating the treatment of domestic wastewater). In the argumentation, one must emphasize that TRAISELECT is the only domestic wastewater treatment system that is based on preventing pollution at the source. In this sense, unlike all other systems, it is not a corrective technique, but a preventive technique.
Here are the elements that must be introduced to adapt the law to pollution-prevention techniques.
To enjoy the benefits of the selective treatment of grey water, the law will only allow toilets that don’t separate urine and fecal matter. It is therefore appropriate to prohibit the use of «Scandinavian-type» source separating toilets.
Note that such toilets are more polluting than the flush toilet. Spreading raw urine collected from such toilets directly in a home’s garden is equivalent to spreading livestock manure on farmland. Comparatively, European standards dictate an average maximum allowable load of 200 kg of nitrogen (from livestock manure) per hectare. With respect to this standard, one person using a source separating toilet will need to have at least 500 m2 of garden to prevent contamination of ground waters with the nitrates contained in urine. This surface area is rarely available in periurban zones.
New Definitions in the Law
Proposed amendments of the law would need to introduce new definitions, as those that are found on this website’s glossary. These would include the following:
Given the high degree of environmental protection provided by the use of the TRAISELECT system, this system should also be subject to regulatory exemptions or accommodations in residential sectors located in areas serviced by mains sewerage.
The granting of a license to operate this system should be conditioned by the size (minimum 50 m2 per inhabitant-equivalent) of the home’s garden (or «backyard» as it is known in North America). The administration will need to reserve its right to impose an administrative neighbourhood inquiry in commodo, and in some instances, the imposition of the complete TRAISELECT system.
Authorized users of the TRAISELECT system should be exempt from all water taxes and charges (for both mains sewerage and mains water supply)
Moreover, in homes where the selective treatment of grey water is allowed, the placement and use of a flush toilet should constitute a felony that could result in sanctions from Authorities.
By adopting such legal amendments on wastewater, a country or region would be at the cutting edge, worldwide, in terms of ecological sanitation.