On-site wastewater management

Homes not connected to Council’s sewerage system need to have an on-site wastewater management (‘septic’) system.

The type of septic system required depends on factors such as the sensitivity of the receiving environment, soil conditions, amount of land available for effluent disposal, usage, and gradient or incline of the land. It’s important that a septic system is designed and operated properly because it ensures all wastewater captured from laundries, kitchens, and bathrooms is treated and disposed of safely.

While there are many kinds of septic systems, the most commonly installed systems in the region include:

  • Conventional septic tanks with absorption trenches or beds;
  • Pump outs, where effluent is removed from the site by a liquid waste transporter;
  • Aerated wastewater treatment systems (commonly referred to as an AWTS);
  • Reed beds;
  • Wet compositing systems (commonly called worm farms); and
  • Mounds.

If you have a septic system or need one, it’s important that you understand your responsibilities, which are detailed in Council’s approvals to install and operate the system.

Ultimately, we need to work together to make sure septic systems in the region don’t pollute waterways or cause illness. If you’d like to know more about septic systems, please refer to the Department of Local Government’s The Easy Septic Guide(PDF, 987KB) or contact us on (02) 7955 7777 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer in the On-site Wastewater Management Section.


Buying a property with a septic system

If you’re thinking about buying a property with a septic system, we recommend that you submit a pre-purchase inspection application.

See Council’s fees and charges for further information.

As part of the assessment, an Environmental Health Officer in the On-site Wastewater Management Section will inspect the system to confirm whether it’s operating safely.

If a new system or remedial works are required, it’s better you know before committing to the purchase. You may be able to negotiate the costs associated with any remedial works with the current owners.

Pre-purchase Inspection application(PDF, 1MB)

Decommissioning a septic system

Disused or redundant septic tanks need to be decommissioned properly so they don’t cause any pollution or health problems.

Tanks must be decommissioned in line with NSW Health’s Advisory Note 3 Destruction, removal or reuse of septic tanks, collection wells and AWTS.

It’s important to make sure all effluent and sludge in a redundant septic tank is removed by an approved liquid waste transporter prior to decommissioning it (See Approved Liquid Waste Transporters).

Aerated wastewater treatment systems - servicing agents

Aerated wastewater treatment systems must be serviced every 3 months (or otherwise approved) by an accredited service agent.

Quarterly servicing is a NSW Health requirement, and it ensures that a system continues to operate safely and as manufactured. Property owners are responsible for engaging a service agent to complete the routine servicing.

Council’s role as a regulator is to review the service reports submitted by the agent and to ensure any problems with a system are resolved as soon as practicable. Resolving problems promptly is likely to prevent larger costs down the track. 

Pump out systems and approved liquid waste transporters

Pump out systems are installed on relatively small lots that don’t have sufficient land available for effluent disposal.

Because pump out systems store effluent in holding tanks (collection wells), an approved liquid waste transporter must empty the tanks periodically to ensure they don’t overflow.

How often the system needs to be pumped out depends on the capacity of the tanks together with how much water is used in the home. The treatment tank should be desludged every 3 to 5 years (dependent on usage) to remove sludge that has accumulated at the bottom of the tank.

Routinely desludging a treatment tank ensures the ongoing efficiency of the septic system and may extend its useable life.

Septic systems - what's Council's role?

Council’s role as a regulator is primarily to ensure all septic systems in the region meet the requirements under the Local Government Act 1993 and Local Government (General) Regulation 2021. In simple terms, Council must ensure that septic systems don’t cause harm to public health and the environment.

To achieve this, Environmental Health Officers in the On-site Wastewater Management Section routinely do the following:

  • Maintain a register of approximately 13,000 septic systems operating in the region;
  • Review service maintenance reports for aerated wastewater treatment systems and ensure any system problems are resolved as soon as practicable;
  • Proactively inspect systems in high-risk areas to make sure they are being operated and maintained properly;
  • Inspect new systems to make sure they’ve been installed correctly;
  • Investigate reports alleging pollution from failing systems;
  • Issue approvals to install and operate septic systems; and
  • Educate the communicate about septic systems and the latest standards and requirements.

Council imposes an annual levy (fee)(PDF, 153KB) on all households with a septic system, which covers expenses associated with the compliance and educational activities in the On-site Wastewater Management Section.

The fee is legal under the Local Government Act 1993 and is commonly applied by rural and regional councils in NSW to ensure enough resources are available to manage the risks associated with a significant number of septic systems over a large area. For legal reasons, the fee must be shown as a separate charge on the rates notice. 

Installing a new septic system or altering an existing system

Installing or altering a septic system requires Council approval under section 68 of the Local Government Act 1993.

You must submit a septic application and receive the required approvals before starting any of the proposed works. The application can be submitted in person at Council’s administration buildings, mailed to Council, or submitted online.

Council’s Environmental Health Officers and Buildings Surveyors will inspect the system at various stages of the installation or alteration to confirm the works comply with industry standards and best practices.   

Application form

Approval to operate your septic system

Each septic system must have an approval to operate, known simply as an ATO.

The ATO details the required performance standards that must be achieved by the system together with the property owner’s responsibilities. These approvals are automatically renewed every 3 years in electronic format, a copy of which can be provided to owners upon request.

If your septic system does not appear to be operating in line with the conditions in the ATO, you must contact Council on (02) 7955 7777 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer in the On-site Wastewater Management Section.

Addressing system issues as soon as practicable often reduces larger expenses down the track.