On-site Sewage Management


If you live in a house that is not connected to Council’s town sewer (reticulated sewage system), then chances are your yard contains an on-site sewage management system.

Shoalhaven City Council provides approvals and inspections for the systematic and ongoing management of on-site sewage (effluent) management systems.

This aims to achieve environmental and public health performance objectives, while minimising cost to the community.

Domestic on-site sewage management systems complete two main processes:

  1. Storage and treatment of wastewater from a house to a certain standard; and
  2. Its application to a dedicated area of land or holding tank.

You are responsible for making sure that your on-site system is working well.

Request a service or amend an existing service

Council provides the community with a contracted service that is managed by Shoalhaven Water.

Request or amend a service now

About wastewater

Wastewater may be blackwater from the toilet and kitchen sink or greywater from showers, basins, and washing machines, or a combination of both.

Wastewater can transmit disease and cause major environmental damage. It should not be applied to land without treatment.

An effective on-site treatment and land application:

  • Protects public health and safety
  • Improves catchment management
  • Protects surface and ground waters
  • Protects the land and vegetation

Fines may be imposed under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, 1997 and the Local Government Act, 1993 if wastewater is not managed properly.

Please avoid contact with all treated and untreated wastewater and thoroughly wash affected areas if contact occurs.

Know your on-site sewage management system

Within the Shoalhaven there are more than 7,000 on-site sewage management systems.

The three (3) most common types of on-site sewage management systems used in the Shoalhaven are:

  • Septic absorption systems
  • Aerated wastewater treatment systems (AWTS) and irrigation
  • Pump out systems

For more details on these systems view:

The septic absorption system relies on the soil completing the treatment process as the effluent moves through the strata. However, not all soils are suitable for absorption trenches, and may result in effluent reaching the surface and/or groundwater and adversely affect receiving water bodies.

Effluent from an Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS) contains fewer potential harmful pathogens because it is treated to a higher standard than the conventional septic tank.

However, if the effluent is not appropriately disposed of, unacceptable levels of pollution will still enter the receiving environment.

The higher level of treatment achieved in an AWTS is conditional upon the system receiving regular maintenance. Without regular maintenance by a suitable qualified person, significant public health and pollution problems may occur.

Other on-site sewage management systems

There are many other types of on-site sewage management systems, including:

  • Composting toilets
  • Greywater treatment systems
  • Mounds
  • Domestic grease traps
  • Sand filter beds
  • Wetlands

Details on some of these systems can be found here:

Composting toilets

Composting toilets collect and treat toilet waste only.

In these systems, toilet wastes pass from the pan down a chute and into a chamber. All faecal matter and other compostable matter produced in the dwelling, such as toilet paper, may be disposed of to this system where it is broken down into compost by natural decomposer organisms. When fully broken down, the compost may be used in gardens but must be buried and covered.

Water from the shower, sinks and the washing machine needs to be treated separately, for example in a septic tank or an Aerated Wastewater Treatment System (AWTS).

Greywater treatment systems

Greywater treatment systems collect, store, treat and sometimes disinfect greywater to enable treated greywater to be used in toilets, washing machines and on gardens and lawns.

Find out more:

Greywater diversion devices

Greywater diversion devices redirect greywater to the garden or lawn via a subsurface irrigation system. There are two types of greywater diversion devices (GDD):

Gravity diversion device

A gravity diversion device incorporates a hand activated valve, switch or tap and is fitted to the outlet of the waste pipe of the plumbing fixture such as a laundry tub.  Greywater is diverted directly to a sub-surface irrigation system in the garden.

Pump diversion device

A pump diversion device incorporates a surge tank to cope with sudden influxes of greywater for distribution of the greywater directly to a sub-surface irrigation system in the garden. The surge tank does not operate as a storage tank.

Domestic greywater diversion may be carried out without the prior approval of Council if the conditions of Section 75A of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 are met.

Greywater diversion devices redirect greywater to the garden or lawn via a subsurface irrigation system. You will need a plumber to install the device. 

Are you building or renovating?

You need to submit an application through the NSW Planning Portal for approval to install a system of sewage management.  One requirement is an accredited system is to be installed. 

Following an inspection of this system, Council will issue an Approval to Operate. Typically, this process occurs at the same time a new house is built.

A wastewater report and other documents are required to be submitted with an application.

To get more details about documents and development guidelines for wastewater treatment view:

Do you have an existing system?

Sewage management systems that have not been well maintained may release dangerous levels of sewage pollution to the environment.

Sewage pollution causes contamination of water, which can spread disease and lead to environmental degradation. The cumulative impact of effluent can create a critical problem.

Many systems, especially those installed prior to 1999, would not have had an Approval to Operate a System of Sewage Management issued, following the original installation of the system.

Don't have an Approval to Operate a System of Sewage Management issued?

In this instance, an application is required to be made to Council via the NSW Planning Portal. Such applications may only be lodged via the NSW Planning Portal and not directly with Council.

This change is in line with the NSW Government's plan for all Councils to participate in their ePlanning platform for application lodgement.

Need to setup an account? Learn more:

Purchasing land with sewage management facilities?

An application is also required to be made by a person who purchases (or otherwise acquires) land on which any sewage management facilities are installed or constructed. 

If the former owner held a current Approval to Operate prior to purchase, Council will provide you with details to apply for Approval to Operate in your name.

If there was no previous approval, an application is required via the NSW Planning Portal.

Council inspections

All on-site sewage management systems are inspected by Council on a regular basis and your approval is renewed.

The frequency of inspections depends on the risk operating that system poses to public health and the environment.

When your renewal is due Council will send you a renewal letter showing the fees that apply to your system.

Find out more:


Why does Council still complete an inspection when my system is being serviced?

Some on-site wastewater management systems, such as Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS), require ongoing maintenance by trained technicians.

Inspections by service agents focus on the technical maintenance of the mechanical performance of the system. These inspections are a condition of the accreditation for the AWTS issued by the Director-General of the Department of Health under Regulation 41 of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005.

However, in addition to the treatment system, Council’s inspections include the broader potential impact of the system itself, with considerations including:

  • The land application area
  • The potential impact on receiving permanent/ intermittent watercourses
  • Any potential changes in the hydraulic load entering the system
  • Any alterations from the original approval
  • Any unauthorised diversions of wastewater
  • Determining whether the system complies with the legislative Performance Standards
  • Consulting and liaising with owners/contractors

Is a Pensioner discount available?


To enquire whether you are an eligible pensioner and if a discount is available, contact:

The ownership of the property where the system is operated must be in the name of at least one person who is an eligible pensioner and the property is their primary place of residence.

Only one discounted fee will apply per property and it is only applicable to a system operated on a non-commercial premise.

Do I need to be present for the inspection?


Please contact Council if one of the following applies to you:

  • Access to your property and the sewage management system is restricted or difficult
  • There are animals present on your property that need to be restrained during an inspection
  • There are tenants at the property who need to be notified of an inspection being completed
  • You would like to be present for the inspection

We will then contact you to arrange a mutually convenient time for the inspection.

How do I organise a pump out or cleanout of my system?

Effluent service requests are lodged with Council via online forms, located on Shoalhaven Water’s Effluent Pumpout Services page.

You can request the following effluent services:

Alternatively, other providers outside of this contracted arrangement may be located in the local Yellow Pages directory.

Please provide Council with a copy of your receipt of service from the service provider.

On-site sewage maintenance

What you put down your drains and toilets has a lot to do with how well your system performs.

Maintenance of your sewage management system needs to be done well, and on-time. Any problems should be attended to immediately to protect your health and the environment.

For more information about managing your on-site sewage maintenance view:

Reducing water usage

Reducing water usage will lessen the likelihood of problems, for example, overloading your septic system.

Overloading may result in wastewater backing up into your house, contamination of your yard with improperly treated sewage (effluent), and effluent from your system contaminating groundwater or a nearby waterway.

Your sewage management system is also unable to cope with large volumes of water such as several showers or loads of washing over short periods of time. Make sure water use is spread evenly throughout the day and week.

Get water reduction tips:

Last updated on 09 May 2022