Wastewater & Septic Tank Systems

Overview

Wastewater is any water that has been negatively affected in quality by human activity. This can be derived from domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff or stormwater and sewerage.

Domestic wastewater disposal is an important environmental issue in Benalla Rural City. Many properties across Benalla Rural City do not have reticulated sewerage and rely on septic tank systems to dispose of their wastewater.

Benalla Rural City Council adopted its most recent Domestic Wastewater Management Plan on 3 February at its Council Meeting. The plan includes management strategies to:

  • Assist with the management of on-site disposal of effluent where land is not connected to a reticulated sewerage system
  • Clarification of parameters for new ‘greenfield’ development, infill development and the redevelopment of existing dwellings, with the objectives being to maximise connections to reticulated services in the Benalla township and incremental upgrades of ageing onsite systems in unsewered areas when redevelopment is proposed
  • A review of the declared sewerage district for Benalla township to assist with the development of a strategic plan to extend the existing reticulated sewerage network to adequately serve all land zoned General Residential and Low Density Residential
  • Circulation of community education material to ensure people are better informed about how to maintain their onsite system
  • Distribution of triennial reminders to landowners to desludge their septic tanks
  • Pilot programs to test the efficacy of various low cost measures in improving the performance of older onsite systems and to scientifically investigate the potential impacts of onsite systems on bore/ground water
  • The implementation of a proactive, risk based inspection program for existing systems, focusing initially on pre 2005 systems (due to their higher propensity to failure)
  • Annual training workshop for local experts on assessing wastewater treatment options and system design
  • Development of stormwater collection and treatment plans for Devenish, Goorambat and Baddagginnie to identify options to ensure greywater discharged into the stormwater system is efficiently collected and treated.

Download the Domestic Wastewater Management Plan(PDF, 3MB).

Septic Tank Systems - Approvals, Alterations and Installations

Under the Environment Protection Act 1970, Benalla Rural City Council is responsible for the installation and approval of domestic wastewater systems.

A Permit to Install must be obtained from the Council before commencing alterations or construction of any septic tank system.

The Permit to Install does not allow the septic tank system to be used. The Council must inspect the system during installation to ensure that it has been installed correctly and complies with the Septic Tanks Code of Practice (EPA Publication 891.4). The system can only be used when the Council is satisfied that the system has been installed correctly. We then issue a permit to use the system.

Do I have a septic tank system?

There are many unsewered rural residential and commercial areas. When you purchase land in Benalla Rural City Council, it is important to find out if a sewer network is available by contacting North East Water.

It is the property owner’s responsibility to find out whether the property is connected to sewerage or operates on a septic tank system.

In areas where there is no sewer, it is the responsibility of the owner to make arrangements for an approved, suitably designed septic tank system to be designed, installed and maintained in accordance with Benalla Rural City Council’s permit conditions.

How does the septic tank system work?

After using water in your household for any reason, including showering, flushing the toilet or washing the dishes, the water needs to be treated. It runs from your household, through pipes, into your septic tank.

Your septic tank breaks down bacteria and waste within the used water. The wastewater from a septic system is then disposed of on each property within the allotted drainage field.

Maintenance and care of your septic system will prevent costly problems in the longer term. At least once a year, we recommend investigating the health of your septic system and assessing each individual tank. Your obligations as a property owner will be stated on your permit conditions.

Septic tank is toxic. When systems need to be desludged (usually once every three years), you need a licenced contractor to carry out this work.

Every year, we inspect, regulate and monitor the installation, operation and maintenance of systems. We report to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Be careful what you flush, wash or spray

Chemicals can degrade the healthy bacteria required for your septic system to work. Be careful when disposing of these chemicals:

  • Paints
  • Oils
  • Solvents
  • Disinfectants
  • Bleaches
  • Pesticides

Use white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda for household cleaning where possible, as these products are good alternatives to harsh chemicals.

Septic systems cannot effectively manage non-biodegradable products, such as sanitary napkins, ‘flushable’ wipes and cooking oils. Other household items can also cause issues for your septic system, including:

  • Food scraps
  • Caffeine
  • Medications
  • Hair
  • Dental floss
  • Tissues
  • Cat litter
  • Nappy sanitisers

Don’t install garbage disposal units in kitchens, as the waste from these units is disruptive to bacteria within the system.

If you’re unsure about what might impact your septic system, we are here to help.

Is my septic system healthy?

Common issues with septic systems are identifiable by:

  • A rotten egg smell
  • The ground being damp around absorption trenches
  • The toilet, shower or drains are not draining as quickly as usual

Solid scum and sludge form at the top and bottom of septic tanks as effluent passes through. If it doesn’t get pumped out, wastewater with solids will cause problems with absorption trenches, sand filters and pumps. It is important to get your septic system desludged at least every three years.

Too much water can cause the wastewater to flow too quickly through the tank, not allowing the good bacteria within the system to break down the effluent. This can also result in clogging of absorption trenches. This is a common practice in holiday homes that are unused and then overloaded at peak holiday times. If you are at risk of overloading your system, consider water efficient fixtures.

 

Landscaping around septic tanks

It’s best not to landscape over the lids of septic systems. Ideally, clear and easy access works best. Using water (such as watering grass or washing cars) should be avoided near the absorption trench. You can plant small shrubs and plants over the absorption or sand filter area, but be careful not to plant large trees with root systems that might damage the pipes.

Plan your landscaping carefully. Septic systems should be kept clear of:

  • Driveways, vehicles and carparks
  • Paved, sealed or gravel surfaces
  • Areas that are mostly in shade, are susceptible to flooding or stormwater run-off
  • Stormwater systems
  • Underground service pipes and cables, such as those for utilities
  • Swimming pools, tennis courts, decking, buildings, garages and carports
  • Livestock and fruit or vegetables for human consumption
  • Water bores