Since the beginning of 2004 there are new regulations for wastewater treatment for households outside the municipal sewer network in Finland. These new regulations will hopefully lead to improved water quality. Approximately one million year-around residents and one million vacationers live in areas without municipal sewers in Finland. The aim of the new wastewater treatment regulations is to cut down the nutrient discharges from single-family homes and to improve general environmental hygiene. The environmental movement was however disappointed since there are no obligations to ensure that the nutrients are recycled to the ecosystems.
The new regulations set high standard on nutrient discharges from household outside the municipal sewer network. According to the regulations the nutrient discharges must be reduced by 90 % regarding organic matter (BSF7), by 85 % regarding phosphorus and by 40 % regarding nitrogen in comparison to untreated wastewater. Theoretically one resident produces 50 g/day organic matter, 2.2 g/day phosphorus and 14 g/day nitrogen. The norm itself has therefore a clever construction, it does not set a reduction percentage for everyone, but rather it sets maximum levels of nutrients. This means that households with a low nutrient load (due to lack of dish-washing machine or water-flush toilet, etc) don’t have to invest in expensive constructions.
The new regulations concern all houses that are constructed after the year 2004, but not only new houses are included immediately. Older houses have to meet up with the new regulations within 10 years, by 1 Jan. 2014. In special cases the time period is within 14 years. Every household must also have a description of the present wastewater treatment system for the house and a guide for maintenance. If the house has a water toilet the description should have been made by the beginning of 2006. This description should be kept at the property, available for authorities.
The regulations do not include houses without water toilets if the amount of wastewater is small and if there is no risk for pollution of the environment.
Strengths and weaknesses
The new regulations will hopefully decrease nutrient loads from single-family homes because of the high reduction standards set in regulations. But FSNE sees some weaknesses in the regulation. The regulation does not say anything about the importance of recycling nutrients removed from wastewater back to agricultural use.
It is also important to understand that the new regulations don’t say what kind of technology should be applied. It is the responsibility of the house owner. There have been a lot of discussions about how families with little knowledge in environmental technology can follow the new rules. Also the officials at municipality level responsible for supervision usually lack this kind of knowledge.
FSNE is also worried about the loose timetable. Hopefully not all house owners will wait until the deadline; otherwise the market can be very busy in the year 2013.
What might the consequences be?
An average investment cost for an “ordinary” house is approximately 3.000-5.000 euros. Therefore it is understandable, that the reform is heavily debated. Instead of building own small-scale treatment plants, many houses will instead build a closed system and transport the wastewater to a central wastewater treatment plant. This will increase transport dramatically. Therefore the treatment plant will have to treat considerably higher amounts of nutrients. There is a risk that overload of wastewater will reduce the reduction efficiency in the older treatment plants designed for smaller loads.