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Onsite sewage management


There are over 4600 Onsite Sewage Management Systems in use in the Port Stephens Local Government Area. System types include septic tanks with adsorption trenches or evapotranspiration beds; septic tanks that pump to sewer, aerated wastewater treatment systems, pump to sewer systems and effluent pump-outs.

All surface waterways and groundwater can be potentially affected by poorly operating onsite wastewater treatment systems. While a well maintained onsite system can be used to effectively treat and dispose of human effluent, systems that are poorly maintained and not operating well can introduce high levels of nutrients, micro-organisms and other pollutants to our waterways.

The Onsite Sewage Management Program

Council's On-site Sewage Management Program has been operating since March 2000 following legislative changes by the State Government.

Council employs three full-time staff to run the program which is self-funding from associated fees. The program consists of several areas of operation underpinned by an On-Site Sewage Management Strategy. Areas of operation include:

The Local Government Act 1993 prescribes the operation of a system of sewage management as an activity that requires an approval to operate from a local Council.  As such every property operating an on-site system now requires an approval to operate.  This approval requires renewing annually for which a fee is payable. The fee is now conveniently included in the property rate notice.  Council maintains a database of properties operating n-site systems.

Existing systems are inspected by a Council Officer on a regular basis to ensure that they are operating correctly and being maintained in a satisfactory condition. Audited systems are inspected on either a 1, 2, 3 or 5 year frequency and then categorized as low, medium or high risk, depending upon sensitivity of the location, system type and the overall condition of the system.  Property owners are provided with prior notification of each inspection with inspection results forwarded to them following the inspection.

The Local Government Act 1993 prescribes the installation, alteration or construction of a waste treatment device or human waste storage facility as an activity that requires the prior approval of the local Council.  Before a system of sewage treatment or storage facility can be installed an application must be submitted to Council for assessment and determination. Application forms and other documents area available from this web site

Council's waste water staff perform investigations into pollution incidents involving failing on-site systems. Hefty financial penalties apply to any person(s) deliberately causing pollution of waters or lands.

Council in partnership with external organisations such as the University of Newcastle conduct research projects to better understand how systems operate and how they impact on the environment. These research projects provide valuable information which Council uses to evaluate the On-site Sewage Management Program. Council also undertakes regular routine and event based monitoring of surface waters to identify sources of pollution from various activities.

5 Simple Steps to Installing a Domestic Wastewater System

Contact Council to obtain the hazard class of the property you wish to install the waste water system on.

Undertake the required level of assessment based on the assigned hazard class. Property owners may be required to attend a site meeting with a Council Officer.
Low or medium hazard class: complete Council's generic Site and Soil Assessment Report in accordance with section 1.1 (low) or section 1.2 (medium) of the DAF.
- High or very high hazard class: contact a suitably qualified wastewater or environmental consultant to prepare a wastewater management report in accordance with section 1.3 (high) or section 1.4 (very high) of the DAF.

Use the results of the site and soil assessment (either generic or consultants) and the relevant sections of the DAF to select a permissible waste water system. It is recommended that you obtain at least three (3) quotes remembering that the lowest price is not always the best. Always consider other issues such as servicing ability, servicing costs, operating costs, system reliability and warranty.

Ensure the application contains all the necessary documentation. An application fee will apply in accordance with Councils schedule of fees and charges. Remember that an incomplete application may result in a longer assessment time.

- Application Form: complete an application for Approval to Install a Waste Treatment Device and Approval to Operate an On-Site Sewage Management System;
- Septic tank or treatment tank specifications and details: provide sufficient details of the proposed wastewater treatment system including a NSW Health accredited certification (if applicable);
- Land application area: provide sufficient details of the disposal area including method of disposal, dimensions, design and any earth works proposed;
- The assessment report: provide a copy of either the Council Site and Soil Assessment Report (low or medium hazard class) or the wastewater management report (high or very high hazard class);
- Floor plans: include a floor plan of the dwelling or building that will be connected to the waste treatment device must be provided;
- Site plan: include an A4 site plan (to scale) of the property that shows buildings, driveways, treatment tanks, land application fields (detailed), boundaries, watercourses, dams and drains; and
- Servicing agreement: include a signed servicing agreement if the wastewater treatment system requires periodic servicing.

It is the responsibility of the applicant or property owner to ensure the system is installed in accordance with the approval. Inspections will be required at various stages of the installation - these can be found in schedule 1 of the Notice of Determination. Allow at least 48 hours notice when booking an inspection. When the system installation (including land application area) has been completed contact Council for the final inspection. Occupation of a new dwelling is not permitted until a satisfactory final inspection has been performed.


Installing an Onsite Sewage Management System

Decommissioning an Onsite Sewage Management System

Useful Guides for Property Owners