On-site sewage management


If you live in a house that is not connected to council’s reticulated sewer system (the sewer network, or 'sewer mains'), your yard most likely contains an on-site sewage management system.

These systems are most common in rural or remote areas, but can also be found in locations where the ground is not suitable for installing a sewer network.

Shoalhaven City Council provides approvals and inspections for the management of on-site sewage (also known as 'effluent'), management systems. This way, we can meet environmental and public health performance objectives while minimising the costs to the community.

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

  1. storage and treatment of household sewage into 'wastewater' to a certain standard; and
  2. transporting treated wastewater to a dedicated area of land or holding tank.

You are responsible for making sure that your on-site system is well maintained and operating properly.

This usually involves scheduling a cleanout of your on-site system every few years, and taking care to avoid putting the wrong things down your system.

What is 'wastewater'?

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

Wastewater can transmit disease and cause major environmental damage, so it should not be applied to land without proper pre-treatment.

An effective on-site sewage management system:

  • 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.

Get to 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 tank (absorption) systems
  • aerated wastewater treatment systems (AWTS) and irrigation
  • effluent pumpout systems

To learn more about the differences between these systems, go to Shoalhaven Water's page on types of sewer systems.

The septic tank absorption system relies on the soil completing the treatment process as the effluent moves through the layers of soil. However, not all soils are suitable for absorption trenches - some soils can result in effluent reaching the surface and/or groundwater and having a detrimental effect on public health.

Effluent from an Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems, or '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, harmful levels of pollution can still enter the environment.

The higher level of treatment achieved in an AWTS depends on the system receiving regular maintenance and cleanouts. Without regular maintenance by a 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 organisms.

When fully broken down, the compost may be used in gardens but must be buried and covered to prevent the spread of harmful pathogens.

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 on the Shoalhaven Water website's page on greywater.

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:

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.

Do you have an existing system?

An 'Approval to Operate a System of Sewage Management', also known as an 'Approval to Operate', is a type of license that contains details on the way the sewage management system will be operated, maintained, serviced and the actions that will be taken in the event of a breakdown or interference. You will need this approval to operate an on-site sewage system.

Many systems especially those installed prior to 1999 would not have had an Approval to Operate issued after the original installation of the system, so make sure you check if you have one, and apply for one if you don't.

Don't have an Approval to Operate?

In this instance, an application is required to be made to council via the NSW Planning Portal. These applications can only be lodged via the NSW Planning Portal (i.e. not directly with Council).

Before you start

Download, complete and submit the ‘Owners Consent’ form within your application to Council.

Owners Consent form

How to apply

Lodge your application online via the NSW Planning Portal:

Lodge online via the NSW Planning Portal

Need help?

Need help with starting your application? Follow our instruction guide below:

Application Instructions

Purchasing a property with on-site 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 is installed or constructed. 

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

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

Fees and charges

In order to provide a better service to our customers, following consultation with affected ratepayers Council is now applying an itemised on-site sewage management charge on applicable Annual Rates Notices, effective 1 July 2022.

The annual charge is levied under section (s.) 501(1) LG Act 1993.

Prior to this change, applicants received a payment advice typically every five years, or annually for high-risk systems, to renew an ongoing Approval to Operate an on-site sewage management under section (s.) 68 Local Government (LG) Act 1993.

The former fees captured in the payment advice have now been more effectively spread over five years, and replaced with a smaller, more manageable annual charge reflected in annual rates notices.

Frequently asked questions

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

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.

What is the on-site sewage management (OSSM) charge?

What does the OSSM charge cover?

The OSSM charge contributes to the costs relating to the ongoing Approval to Operate an OSSM on your property under s. 68 LG Act 1993. The charge also contributes to the management of OSSM systems in the Shoalhaven. This includes system inspections, requiring property owners to meet environmental and health performance standards, providing education to property owners and the community, facilitating the upgrade of systems and enabling a more proactive approach to nullify environmental harm and risk to public health.

Does the OSSM charge cost more than the previous fees?


This is a single charge, as opposed to the former separate administration and inspection components of the previous fees. The cost structure is the same. A higher rate continues to be applicable to commercial properties and property owners with multiple systems. Also, higher risk OSSMs, such as large systems servicing commercial operations, will still be inspected more frequently. Property owners will be invoiced separately to the Annual Rates Notice for additional inspections completed.

I still have a current Approval to Operate, when will I be charged again?

The charge will only be applied on the Annual Rates Notice when your Approval to Operate is due to expire in that same financial year.

Can I opt out and continue to receive a payment advice every 5 years?


The charge will be applied to all affected properties.

As an affected ratepayer, I don’t remember being told about this change. Why wasn’t I informed?

Community consultation was undertaken in April 2022. The proposal was mailed out to all affected residents and feedback was requested. Submissions received were considered by the elected Councillors prior to adopting the charge.

In addition, all ratepayers were informed of the new charge in their 2022/23 Annual Rates Notice and a brochure was included for all affected ratepayers where the OSSM charge was applied.

For more information view:

Is there a discounted charge for pensioners?


The previous cost structure with a reduced charge for eligible pensioners has been retained. If the property owner is an eligible pensioner, the Pensioner Charge will be applied. If pensioner status changes throughout the year, it will be updated the following financial year. The same will apply if a property owner becomes a pensioner.

How does the OSSM charge affect ratepayers?

What is the benefit of placing the charge on rates?

It makes payments easier for customers, as the charge can be paid in quarterly instalments instead of as a larger, upfront fee. Also, payment can now be made using your rates reference number. This will eliminate the stress and confusion experienced by many customers in the past when they have made payment into the wrong account.

Having the charge on the rates also saves ratepayers money in the long term as council is no longer expending duplicate resources chasing up payments. This will all now be handled efficiently by our Rates Team.

If my Approval to Operate is not due until later in the financial year, why am I being charged from the beginning of the financial year?

The LG Act 1993 requires that the charge be placed on the Annual Rates Notice at the beginning of the financial year. Accordingly, a small portion of what you would have previously paid later in the year has been brought forward to facilitate the transition to rates. You are not being charged twice in the financial year for the OSSM system.

Further, whilst part of the charge is being applied at the beginning of the financial year, the amount to be paid that year is only 20% of the former up-front application fees.

Can I start paying later in the financial year when my current Approval to Operate was due to expire?


The annual charge needs to be applied at the beginning of the financial year, however, ratepayers may enter into a payment arrangement upon request. You can do this by completing an Agreement to Pay Rates & Charges and returning it to council.

Please note that as with any overdue rates and charges, interest is accrued on any overdue amount, including overdue payment arrangements. council will not personally contact ratepayers if a payment is not received.

If you are struggling to make payments on time, please advise council of your situation so we can work with you to make suitable payment arrangements.

If I am late paying, or only pay for my rates, will I be charged interest on all charges?


All charges are paid off equally on rates – you cannot select to only pay for certain charges.

What increase in charges will I see?

Generally, increases in charges are guided by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is set by the federal government.

Each year, council invites the community to provide feedback on the Draft Delivery Program and Operational Plan and Budget, which also includes council's proposed Fees and Charges.

Will council still regularly inspect OSSMs?

How will council determine how often an inspection is completed?

Inspections will still be completed either every five years, or more frequently for high-risk OSSM systems.

What is a high-risk OSSM?

High-risk OSSM systems are determined in relation to their proximity to environmentally sensitive areas and/or a permanent water body, intensity of management required, likelihood of the public coming into contact with effluent and associated public health risks, the commercial nature of the property and/or the requirement for an annual report to be submitted to council.

Can I be present for the inspection?


Property owners will be notified when their OSSM system is due for inspection and provided with an opportunity to arrange an appointment for the inspection if they would like to be present.

Will I be issued an Approval to Operate an OSSM?

How will my Approval to Operate be issued and how will this be issued if there is a change of ownership?

Council will generate an Approval to Operate to the current owner(s) of affected properties on an annual basis.

When council is notified of a change of ownership, an approval will be issued in the name of the new owner(s). The approval will be generated and stored electronically at council. A copy will only be sent to ratepayers upon request.  

There are multiple owners with multiple dwellings on my property, is there a separate Approval to Operate and OSSM charge for the property?


There is only one Approval to Operate issued and one charge levied per property.

I have tenants in my property. Who will be issued the Approval to Operate?

The Approval to Operate will be issued to the owner(s) of the property. Under s.46 Local Government (General) Regulation 2021, Approval to Operate is extended to concurrent owners and occupiers. A copy of the Approval to Operate may be obtained from council upon request.

When will I be connected to reticulated sewer?

For any enquiries about whether your property will be connected to the reticulated sewer:

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 website:

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.

Managing your on-site sewage system

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:

To manage requests related to your sewer services, such as:

Please go to the Shoalhaven Water website:

Visit Shoalhaven Water

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, 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 on Shoalhaven Water's page on water saving ideas.

Will your building or renovations affect your sewer system?

If so, you may need to apply for approval to install and operate the system of sewage management.

Please note: An accredited system is required.

Before you start

Download, complete and submit the ‘Owners Consent’ form within your application to Council:

Owners Consent form

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

To get more details about documents and development guidelines for wastewater treatment, view the DCP page on Onsite Sewage Management:

Shoalhaven Development Control Plan 2014 - Chapter G8 Onsite Sewage Management

How to apply

Lodge your application online via the NSW Planning Portal:

Lodge online via the NSW Planning Portal

What happens next

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.

Need help?

To complete your application, please follow the application instructions to prepare and submit your application through the NSW Planning Portal.

Application Instructions

Contact us