When it comes to the treatment of urban waste water, the Walloon region is faced with its European obligations. This has led to the important works programme managed by the SPGE (Public Water Management Company) to provide mains drainage for all settlements with more than 2,000 Inhabitant Equivalents (IEs). Outside such settlement areas, light population densities would make mains drainage prohibitively expensive. 500,000 inhabitants of Wallonia therefore require waste water management systems which reflect the dispersed settlement pattern. This means individual waste water treatment systems.

Under the direction of the Minister, Mr. Foret, a new policy for the installation of such individual systems has been decided. This seeks to assure that the whole region is served by the end of 2009. This policy has three main axes :

  • Establishment of financial incentives
  • Development of treatment systems offering guaranteed results, and maximum convenience for the user. Designs receiving approval will benefit from a subsidy, or cash incentive
  • Creation of a control procedure both for the installation and operation of such systems

Financial Incentives

In order to maintain complete equity between those residents connected to mains drainage, and those requiring individual systems, the Walloon government decided on 19 July, 2001 to introduce a system of grants for the installation of individual treatment systems in existing habitations which were not connected to, and could not be connected to, mains drainage. This grant amounts to 2,500 Euro for the installation of an approved system for up to 5 IEs. The grant increases to 3,125 Euro in cases where a surface filtering system is not possible and when specific work has to be carried out to create a soakaway.

Technical System Development

The approval system for individual waste treatment systems - so that they qualify for the above grants - has three objectives :

  • User comfort (information about launching the system and about its operation)
  • The long-term reliability of the system in terms of the effectiveness of its treatment
  • Reducing operating costs

An Expert Control Commission on individual treatment systems was established to evaluate each treatment system seeking approval for grant-aid purposes along three criteria - technical, operation and information.

Since its creation in January 2002, the Committee’s secretariat has recorded over 100 requests for approval from 16 manufacturers or agents from different branches of the waste water treatment sector.

By the end of 2002 the Committee had delivered its opinion on 30 waste water treatment systems designed for 5 - 10 Inhabitant Equivalents (IEs) proposed by 11 different manufacturers.
The different submissions represent the different intensive and extensive processes on the market today (active sludges, percolating bacteria beds, fixed biomass reactors, ponds, etc.)

The Committee’s work has identified potential development in this area which could improve the user’s peace-of-mind while reducing operating costs. The expert evaluations undertaken by the Committee reveal the innovative approach of this approval system. The Committee simultaneously advises the Minister responsible for water policies, and provides guidance on the development of waste water treatment techniques in Wallonia.

The following points of interest have emerged from the Committee’s work :

  • Many systems are too small in terms of sludge storage capacity - or in some systems the internal circuit capacity is simply inadequate (transfers, re-circulation and emptying). This either results in higher costs for the user as it requires more frequent emptying, and/or impinges on the effectiveness of the actual waste treatment.
  • The installation and operating instructions - essential for the end user - are often incomplete, or badly laid out.

In addition to its primary role of approving different systems, the Committee wishes to develop its expert and advisory roles and make a contribution to the drafting of the accompanying technical recommendations for the new General Rules on Drainage and Waste Water, and the application of the Water Treatment Plans based in Hydrographic sub-basins (PASH).

The Committee feels that its evaluation process makes a non-monetary contribution to research and development within the waste water treatment industry - in complete harmony with the Contract for Wallonia’s future. Some manufacturers have already incorporated suggestions from the Committee into their products.

Procedures and Controls

For the householder who makes the investment in an individual waste treatment system - thus contributing to the overall effort to reduce water pollution - it is normal that he or she should have their waste water treatment levy refunded - subject to the system they install being an approved one.

In line with the governmental decisions on a three-pronged approach to private waste water systems - approval of systems on the market, increasing the grant aid available and augmenting controls - a 2003 priority is to draft a regulation on refunds of the waste water treatment levy, and strengthening the controls on the efficiency of individual waste water treatment systems.

At the same time it is important to facilitate public access to all this information, both by simplifying the various administrative forms, and by harmonising the new regulations with the responsibilities imposed by the decree on the environmental license.