Great Lakes Council currently has over 4000 on-site sewage management systems registered in the Local Government area. Many of these systems are concentrated in the waterside villages of Coomba Park, Seal Rocks, Nerong, North Arm Cove, Pindimar, Bundabah and Allworth. Rural areas and inland villages of Wards River, Stroud Road, Booral, Limeburners Creek, Bunyah and Coolongolook also utilise on-site sewage management systems. Council has an ongoing inspection program in which each system will be assessed and advice given to ensure systems are working satisfactorily.
If you are connected to town sewer or water all enquiries should be directed to MidCoast Water.
Council's on-site sewage management program was developed under the guidance of NSW Health and Department of Local Government.
Council inspects all systems to determine if they are operating satisfactorily. Systems in high risk areas such as small lots close to waterways will be inspected more frequently than large rural properties. Systems that are operating poorly and not maintained will also be inspected more frequently than those that are well looked after. The program also includes the following:
- Monitoring of pump-out records to ensure systems are not overflowing or being illegally emptied;
- Monitoring Aerated Wastewater Treatment System (AWTS) reports to ensure owners are aware of maintenance that is required;
- Approval and ongoing monitoring of AWTS contractors to ensure qualified technicians are carrying out quality services;
- Water monitoring programs to ensure pollution is not occurring from failing systems.
Council charges an annual fee for all on-site sewage management systems. The fee is included on the property rate notice.
The Easy Septic Guide is a great booklet created through Septic Safe. The booklet includes information on your responsibilities, how to check your system, easy maintenance tips, types of systems and what can be planted in disposal areas. NSW Health is also involved in the on-site sewage management program. Under the provisions of Division 6 (Clauses 42 and 43) Local Government (Approvals) Regulation 1999, a local council must not approve of the installation of certain sewage management facilities unless they have been accredited by the NSW Department of Health.
Approval to Operate
All systems must be registered with Council and an approval to operate is required. Council approval is also required for an installation or alteration of a system.
- Existing systems - If you have an existing system that is not currently registered with Council you must submit an Application for Approval to Operate an On-site Sewage Management System. By lodging the application, you are granted interim approval to operate until such time as Council inspects the system. Following inspection, providing the system complies with Council's requirements, the system will be allocated a risk category and inspection frequency. If the system is not satisfactory, Council will advise what needs to be done to gain Approval to Operate. There is often some minor works to plumbing and/or maintenance required. A small percentage of systems fail inspection and require complete upgrade work.
- New Systems - If you are installing a new system, an approval to install must be obtained from Council by submitting an Application to install/alter an On-site Sewage Management System. Following installation, an Application for Approval to Operate an On-site Sewage Management System must be submitted to Council prior to commissioning the system or moving into your home. The new installation must be inspected by Council before you occupy the dwelling to ensure there is no risk to public health or the environment. Approval to Operate will be issued following the inspection or you will be notified of any work that has not been completed satisfactorily. Please note: the final building inspection carried out by Councils building inspector does not include an inspection of your on-site sewage management system.
- New owner - If you are thinking about purchasing a property with an on-site sewage management system Council recommends a Pre-purchase Inspection. If you have recently purchased a property with a septic system you need to submit an Application for Approval to Operate an On-site Sewage Management System. Council will automatically send you the application form and associated information after the title transfer is received by Council. Council does not immediately receive this information from the Lands Titles Office.
What Products Can I Use in My Home That is Safe in My Septic?
Earthsafe Australia, a service provider, has produced two handouts for your convenience called Products That Can Be Used and Products To Be Avoided.
Installing a New System
If approval is related to a new building, approval to install an on-site sewage management system is usually required prior to gaining a construction certificate. There are a number of different treatment and disposal options; all require regular maintenance and operational knowledge by you as the owner. All wastewater from your premises needs to be treated and disposed of, this includes waste from toilets, showers, hand basins, laundry and kitchen.
Which system suits you and your land? To ensure the system you install is suitable for your site, Council requires the submission of a geotechnical report which outlines the suitability of the soil to accept effluent and recommends the size and location which will be required for the disposal of effluent. A comprehensive list of geotechnical engineers is available from the Yellow Pages. The report will also alert Council to any environmental factors that may restrict the disposal of effluent on-site such as proximity to waterways, high water tables or excessive slopes. Some sites may not be suitable for the disposal of effluent on-site and therefore a pump-out system may be the only alternative. These sites are generally small lots with clay or sandy soil.
Before installing a system, you will need to do the following:
- Decide which treatment system and land application system you would prefer and suits the property you wish to install it on - Consider such things as:
- Cost - installation and ongoing servicing or pump-outs;
- Ability to maintain the system - most systems require the land application area to be regularly maintained (grass mowed or vegetation pruned);
- Permanent or holiday use;
- Water re-use - some systems allow treated effluent to be reused on gardens or lawns;
- Site constraints - soil type, soil depth, slope, exposure to sun and prevailing winds;
- Buffer Distances - the land application area must be certain distances away from things like waterways, buildings and swimming pools.
- Arrange for a geotechnical report to be completed - A geotechnical report is not required for the installation of pump-out systems, as these systems do not dispose on-site. If you are upgrading an existing system, check with Council if a geotechnical report is required for your site. New subdivisions may not require geotechnical reports as information may already be on file. This report will detail soil characteristics and environmental constraints. The report will recommend the best type of system for the site and include calculations for the size of the disposal area. Talk to the geotechnical consultant and discuss your preferences. The most suitable system for the site may not suit you. The system you prefer may be possible but could require a specific design. A comprehensive list of geotechnical engineers is available from the Yellow Pages.
- Submit to Council an application to install an on-site sewage management system and pay the relevant fee - The application should include a copy of the geotechnical report (if required), details of the system to be installed, a site plan and information to allow Council to locate the property and to locate the proposed siting of the system. An application is required to be submitted and approved before a construction certificate is issued. The application is not usually required before the Development Application is approved however the geotechnical report may be requested to ensure effluent disposal can be obtained. Council will assess your application and an approval must be issued before installation. Approvals may contain conditions imposed by Council that must be complied with. Many of the conditions are site specific to ensure the system will operate correctly.
- Obtain a full quote for the system to be installed - Ensure that all tanks and treatment systems are accredited by NSW Health Department. Sand filters, mounds and reed beds are currently classified as disposal systems and do not required accreditation by NSW Health. The quote should include installation of the tank and the disposal system (e.g. trench, irrigation system). Give the installer a copy of Council's conditions so that drainage and earthworks can be included.
- Council Inspections will be required - If the system is being installed with a new dwelling, the building inspector will do a drainage inspection before the pipes are covered. Council's on-site sewage inspectors will do a final inspection of the system before the system is used to ensure all conditions have been complied with. Following this inspection, an Approval to Operate will be issued.
- Notify Council when the system is to be commissioned for use and submit an application for approval to operate.
For further information, please download and print the fact sheet and application form below.
Type of Systems
Each user and site may have different factors which will determine the type of system most suitable.
- Septic tank with on-site disposal in evapotranspiration/absorption trenches or beds - These are the most common types of systems. Effluent is settled in a septic tank and then disposed of into trenches or beds. The septic tank pre-treats the wastewater before it goes to the land application system. Three main things happen in the septic tank:
- Solids settle to the bottom of the tank and form a layer of sludge.
- Lighter wastes such as fat and grease float to the surface and form a scum layer.
- Bacteria, which live in the septic tank, help break down the solid wastes and reduce the volume of sludge collecting in the bottom of the tank.
- Septic tanks do not remove nutrients. The wastewater is not disinfected, and because it is highly infectious it must be applied to land below ground level. The absorption trench contains an archway or perforated pipe laid in gravel and covered with soil. Effluent seeps through and is absorbed by the soil where bacteria digest the pollutants and pathogens. These systems are usually not appropriate for sandy soils or heavy clay soils. If the tank is not operated and maintained properly, excessive solids will pass to the land application system. This will quickly clog up, causing health hazards, and a need for expensive reinstatement of the absorption area. Desludging the septic tank is required every 3-5 years depending on use. Septic tanks are available in concrete or plastic.
- Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS) - Aerated wastewater treatment systems (AWTS) increase the level of treatment of the effluent so it is suitable for irrigation onto lawns or gardens. AWTS use aeration of wastewater as an integral part of the treatment process. They rely on biological activity for proper system operation. Chlorination or ultra violet treatment of the final effluent allows above ground irrigation of effluent. Although effluent produce is of a higher quality then septic tank effluent, most systems do not significantly reduce nutrient levels. Therefore appropriately designed and maintained effluent disposal sites are necessary. AWTS must be operated continuously; power to the system must not be turned off. If AWTS are used at irregular intervals the system might need to be serviced before use. Therefore, holiday homes may not be suited to this type of system. Servicing is required every 3-4 months by a Council approved service provider this cost must be considered when choosing this system.
- Sand Filters - Sand filters further treat effluent from a septic tank, effluent quality is comparable with that from AWTS. Effluent is pumped through a bed of coarse sand, collected and disposed in shallow subsurface irrigation in lawns or gardens. Sand filters are generally low maintenance systems and can handle surge loads. They may be used to extend the life of the land application system.
- Reed Beds - Effluent is treated in a septic tank prior to a reed bed. The reed bed further treats the effluent through settlement and nutrient removal. Treated effluent is then distributed into subsurface irrigation a minimum of 300mm below the ground surface. Reed beds can be incorporated into landscaping. Effluent is contained beneath the rock surface of the reed bed. Reeds require some annual pruning / removal.
- Mounds - Effluent is treated in a septic tank and distributed into an amended soil mound which is built above the existing ground level. Due to the increased surface area of the mound, this system uses less area than traditional systems. Mounds are ideal for smaller properties and areas of poor soil or high groundwater.
- Biological Filtration Systems (BFS) / Wet Composting Systems - Wet Composting and BFS accept all household wastewater and treat the effluent using a biomass including worms. Some BFS effluent can be used for reuse purposes including irrigation and toilet. These systems may also be used as greywater treatment systems.
- Pumpout System - Pumpout systems do not use land disposal. Effluent is held in a collection well and removed by a Council approved wastewater contractor. Pumpouts are inexpensive to install however regular pumpouts can be costly. Pumpout systems are generally only recommended where the site has major limitations such as small block size or environmentally sensitive area.
Who Can Pump Out My System?
All contractors that pump out effluent and transport the waste within Great Lakes Council must be licensed with Council (application form). Council can then ensure that the waste is disposed of correctly. These contractors are required to give records to Council of all services allowing Council to monitor the frequency of pumpouts for individual systems.
The following contractors are currently licensed with Great Lakes Council:
Doyle Natural Resource Solutions Pty Ltd
Ph: 0428 389 531
|All Great Lakes area
JR Richards & Sons
Ph: 02 6555 7007
|All Great Lakes area
Mid Coast Liquid Waste
Ph: 02 6553 6388 or 0412 460 873
|All Great Lakes area
Ph: 1800 003 283
|All Great Lakes area
Enviroking Pty Ltd
Ph: 4930 3000
South of Bulahdelah
If you have a pump-out system, a pump-out is required approximately every four to six weeks depending on water usage. How often you pump out depends on how large the tank is and how many people use the system. Other systems may require a pump-out or desludge if:
- the level in the tank is higher than the outlet pipe;
- too much sludge and scum in the tank.
How to Demolish Your Old System
NSW Health has developed Advisory Note 3 - October 2000, Destruction, Removal and Reuse of Septic Tanks and AWTS. Council approval is required prior to the installation of any reused septic tank, collection well or AWTS. If you are considering the purchase of a used tank, please check with Council to ensure approval will be granted to reinstall the system. Any system installed must be a current NSW Health accredited model. For further information see NSW Health Register of Accredited Sewage Management Facilities.
Some Common Problems: Your septic needs attention if:
- there is a smell - usually like rotten egg gas;
- the ground is damp, soggy or pools form downhill of the system;
- there is lots of dark green grass growing around the disposal area;
- the toilet or drains are slow to clear;
- too much water is going into the system - try to reduce water use and spread use throughout the day/week. Install water saving devices or wash laundry in stages over several days;
- you put chemicals into the system - solvents, oils, paints, disinfectants, pesticides and bleaches all can kill the system.