What is a septic system?
A septic system treats and disposes of wastewater from toilets, bathrooms, laundries and kitchens. Simple care and maintenance of your septic system can prevent contamination to the environment and protect the health and safety of your family.
A septic system is made up of various components including:
- Septic tank
- Internal drains
- Tail pipe
- CWMS main and connection point.
What is a septic tank?
Septic tanks have been used in un-sewered areas for many years as the first stage of treating domestic wastewater.
A septic tank is an underground watertight tank made from either concrete or plastic. Your septic tank should be located within the boundary of your property.
Wastewater from your toilets, laundry, bathrooms and kitchen is gravity fed into the septic tank for treatment, where the liquid and solid portions of the waste are separated.
The solids settle to the bottom of the tank where naturally occurring bacteria convert the material into sludge, while the liquid effluent passes out of the septic tank, through your system’s outlet drain and into Council’s Community Wastewater Management System (CWMS).
What is an access hatch and why do I need it?
Your septic tank is required to have a hatch to provide access for cleaning (pumping out). A licensed contractor must complete the pump out, and if you are connected to Council’s CWMS, this will be organised by Council and done every four years. Council’s contractors are licensed by the EPA to remove, transport and dispose of the waste.
In general, if your septic tank is working well, you should not need to open your septic tank. If you are required to open the access hatch, take care as wastewater can produce harmful gases.
It is a requirement that all new septic tanks have their access hatch raised to ground level. This must not be covered by anything that cannot be quickly and easily removed. Older septic tanks may not have their access hatch at ground level. For ease of access, it is recommended that home owners engage a contractor to raise the access hatch (lid).
What is an inspection point?
The inspection points (IP), located on the inlet and outlet drain of the septic tank, enable access to the sanitary drain to clear any potential blockages. A licensed plumber can assist in clearing these blockages if they occur. If you do not have visible IPs at these points, consider speaking to your licensed plumber about raising them to ground level.
What is a CWMS connection point?
The connection point is the point where wastewater enters Council’s CWMS. The connection point must not be covered as Council may need to access it from time to time.
Any maintenance of the CWMS drain, from the connection point is Council’s responsibility whereas any maintenance from the connection point up to and including the household drains is the responsibility of the property owner (see figure 1.)
Figure 1: Diagram illustrating what is Council’s responsibility and what is the property owner’s responsibility.
Please note, if you wish to raise the ground level of your property (e.g. when building a retaining wall or building a garden bed), you will need to contact Council for approval, and if approved, you will be required to pay for the connection point to be correctly positioned at the new ground level.
The photos below (figure 2) are examples of what your connection point may look like when it is raised to ground level.
How do I maintain my septic system?
Maintaining your septic tank and its associated drains is important because it will save you time, money and help protect the health of your family and property. Damaged drains should be repaired quickly to help prevent reoccurring blockages. SA Health’s fact sheet has some valuable information regarding maintenance of your system.
Does my septic system require a pump?
Whenever possible, a septic tank system should be designed with sufficient grade on the drains so that wastewater can flow to the CWMS by gravity.
A pump system may need to be installed when there is insufficient fall for the wastewater to flow from the septic tank to the connection point. Please note, approval is required to pump wastewater into Council’s CWMS network.
What do I do if I need to replace my septic tank?
As the tank ages it may need to be replaced. Replacement of your septic tank requires wastewater works approval from Council. The septic tank and all other plumbing must be installed by a licensed plumber. The septic tank must be on the approved
products list which can be found on the SA Health website.
How do I know if a blockage is in my drains or Council’s CWMS drain?
Locate the connection point. It is typically located near the front or rear boundary of your property. If you have trouble locating the connection point, Council can provide some assistance to help you find it.
If there is no water flow observed through the connection point when you turn on a tap in your house, the blockage is most likely on your property. If this is the case, contact a licensed plumber to clear the blockage.
If water is holding at the connection point, the blockage is most likely in Council’s drain and you should call us on 8397 7444 so we can send someone from Council to assess and clear the blockage.
It is normal for your septic tank to appear full because of the design of the septic tank.
Is my plumber a licensed plumber?
It is important to check that the plumber you are using is licensed. You can request to see their identification card which should contain their licence number. The licence number can then be checked using the Consumer and Business Services website.
An unlicensed plumber may not undertake the required work correctly which may result in damage to your property and potentially impact any insurance claim or other warranties you may have.
How do I know if I have an SA Water sewer connection?
If you have an SA Water sewer connection, your SA Water bill will include a sewerage access charge for the removal and treatment of sewage and used water from your property. It is based on your property value as determined by the Valuer-General.
Under Council’s new CWMS Infrastructure Management Policy , CWMS customers who have an existing SA Water sewer connection point can apply for a payment plan from Council to connect to SA Water’s sewage system. Council will contact eligible properties in 2020-2021 financial year to discuss this opportunity.
Can I connect to the SA Water sewer system instead of the CWMS?
You will need to apply to SA Water to connect to their wastewater network. Be aware there are costs associated with this process. If your application is approved by SA Water, you will need to inform Council's Water Operations Team.
Do I need approval to discharge swimming pool or spa wastewater into the CWMS?
Yes you do. When a swimming pool is backwashed or emptied, the wastewater is generally pumped into the CWMS main. The CWMS network relies on gravity flows to drain wastewater from each of the connected properties and cannot manage pumped flows above 1L/s. Council needs to know when this will happen to manage the amount of flow into the system and prevent wastewater overflows.
Council requires pool owners who are connected to CWMS to install a flow restriction device to limit the flow to an acceptable rate. Your pool drainage line must include 2 x inspection openings and an isolation valve to allow Council staff to test the flow rate before allowing the pool to be connected to your septic outlet pipe. The arrangement should look like this:
Wastewater from your pool or spa must bypass your septic tank and be discharged to the outlet drain between your septic tank and the CWMS connection point.
You should plan to backwash or drain your pool or spa in off-peak times to avoid causing disruption to the CWMS service for other residents. The best times for backwashing or draining are between 10:00pm and 6:00am for periods no longer than 30 minutes.
For additional information about disposing of wastewater from swimming pools or spas see the EPA website
Is it ok to drain stormwater into CWMS?
No, it isn’t. Residents must not allow any rainwater, stormwater or surface water to enter the CWMS.
If stormwater enters the CWMS, the network can become seriously overloaded during and after rain events. When the CWMS is overloaded, septic tanks cannot efficiently drain into the network and this appears as though the drain is blocked. In extreme cases, the CWMS may overflow creating an environmental hazard.