Council's Environmental Health Unit are responsible for ensuring that the installation and alteration of onsite wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks) throughout the Shire is done in accordance with the current Environment Protection Act (EPA) Code of Practice.
The Environment Protection Act 1970 details the permit process that applies in Victoria for the installation/alteration and use of domestic and some commercial wastewater management systems. The Act uses the term 'septic tank system' for a range of system types which treat wastewater with a volume of less than 5000 litres flow per day and where a connection does not exist to a township reticulated sewerage system.
A two tier approvals process applies which provides for:
- The Environment Protection Authority to approve system types for use in Victoria; and
- The local municipal Council to approve individual installations.
The installation must be a type of system covered by an EPA Approval, compliant with conditions of the approval and be appropriate for the style of development and the intended site. Full details of approval systems for use in Victoria together with conditions and limitations can be found on the EPA website.
Council also provides detailed guidance for the public which is based on our Domestic Wastewater Management Plan and the EPA Code of Practice for Septic Tanks. Significantly more detail including the role of the EPA, Council, Land Capability Assessors, Plumbers and Drainers, and the role of landowners and occupiers is contained within the EPA Code of Practice Publication no 891 dated July 2016.
In summary, the design and selection of an appropriate system needs to consider:
- Wastewater volumes involved
- Site constraints such as setbacks to waterways and soil types
- Land space availability and suitability
- Intended use (such as holiday house)
- Owner preference
A formal Land Capability Assessment (LCA) needs to be undertaken by an appropriately qualified person or business who can assess the above matters. The EPA Code referenced above also provides some guidance and detail regarding LCA's and their author's role. An LCA will often also be required as part of any Planning Permit process. As the site's capability decreases, a higher standard of treatment, increased setback distances and/or a greater level of owner involvement may be necessary. Potentially some properties will be assessed as not suitable for development or only suitable for a small scale of development that produces less wastewater.
The Council requirements for LCA's should be reviewed to ensure the design details and plan will be complete and consistent with EPA standards. Further guidance and direction regarding LCA requirements is contained under our Domestic Wastewater Management Plan page. Please note that the LCA required details also varies based on the perceived and calculated risk for the site.
A Septic System application form needs to be completed and lodged together with:
- copy of the LCA (for a new or major changes to systems)
- plan of proposal
- prescribed fee ($546 for installation, $442 for significant alterations, $278 for minor alterations)
A permit is required to Install a system and prior to altering a system (but not for maintenance works) - further information can be found in the Septic Information booklet.
Please note that a Building Permit relating to a development to be serviced by a septic system (or a redevelopment such as an additional bedroom or ensuite proposal which increases the potential wastewater generated) cannot be processed until the septic system has been assessed and consented to. The Permit to Install needs to be finalised with an Approval to Use prior to the occupancy of the development.
Operation and Maintenance
All septic systems require some maintenance to ensure their ongoing proper performance. Some systems such as sewerage treatment plants require 3 monthly servicing, the traditional septic tank generally needs desludging at 3 yearly intervals.
Further details regarding this matter are contained within your system specific approval and Council's Permit to Use. Council have developed a brochure 'Your Household Septic System' which discusses different types of systems as well as general information on looking after your system. In addition to the periodic maintenance, there are also statutory requirements for the lodgement of system performance reports:
- As a permit condition, the 'traditional' septic and reed bed installed in recent times are required to be assessed every 3 years to confirm their continuing suitability for use, with a copy of a report by an appropriately skilled person or service company provided to Council.
- For sand filters, the report generally needs to be lodged 12 months after the Permit to Use and thereafter 2 yearly.
- For 'aerated wastewater treatment systems', the report generally needs to be lodged 3 monthly and is normally provided to Council directly by the service agent.
Where unusually high risks are identified, a Planning Permit may impose additional servicing/reporting requirements - through an enforceable 'Section 173 Agreement' that will be referenced on the property title. These will normally require reporting to both Council and Goulburn Murray Water of the functionality and any maintenance works undertaken. Any deficiencies need to be addressed and in some cases this will require a permit to be issued by Council before the works are undertaken. Council have a range of reporting forms that can be used to assess your system. These should be submitted to Council as soon as possible.
NB: The term 'traditional system' refers to a septic system that comprises a toilet only or all waste septic tank and a series of drains to contain the treated wastewater below the ground. For older systems, a separate disposal arrangement may apply for the bathroom/laundry wastewater.