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Domestic Water Consumption : Effect, Outcome, Feedback Report

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021


In Victoria sewage or wastewater generated by households is treated either through reticulated sewerage systems or individual on-site septic tank systems. A septic tank system is defined as a system for bacterial, biological, chemical, or physical treatment of sewage, and includes all tanks, beds, sewers, drains, pipes, fittings, appliances, and land used in connection with the system. Historically septic tanks have been extensively used since the 1950s, which coincides with the time they were approved as a method for sewage disposal for domestic properties. In the absence of reticulated sewerage infrastructure, septic tanks are an acceptable sewage solution provided that waste and wastewater are contained and disposed of on-site. Failing septic tank systems can have adverse impacts on human health and the local environment if wastewater seeps into waterways, groundwater, and surrounding soils. (MRCC) has prepared a Domestic Waste Water Management Plan. The purpose of the Council’s Domestic Waste Water Management Plan is to allow the widely varying risks associated with domestic wastewater to be identified and corresponding management strategies developed, implemented, and monitored and a full copy of the Domestic Waste Water Management Plan has been circulated separately to Councillors.

The Plan provides Council with a strategic framework:

  • To allow long-term strategies to be developed for wastewater system management
  • For making decisions about individual installations
  • For enforcement and compliance options for costing and funding wastewater management
  • For liaison between Council, the community, water authorities,


Domestic wastewater is classified as wastewater arising from a domestic dwelling or a dwelling primarily used for domestic purposes. It can comprise black water, greywater, or both. Domestic wastewater must be adequately managed to prevent adverse health effects, the transport of nutrients, pathogens, and other pollutants to surface waters, and to prevent any impacts on groundwater.

As the local public health authority, Council is responsible for ensuring domestic wastewater is either appropriately treated on-site (eg. with septic tanks) or transported through the reticulated sewerage system. The council must ensure that household wastewater does not leave the property boundary and pose health and environmental threats. This is achieved through a permitting system, monitoring, and compliance management for on-site wastewater treatment systems.

By guidance from the Municipal Association of Victoria, Mildura Rural City Council submitted a draft Domestic Waste Water Management Plan to the Municipal Association of Victoria on March 31, 2006. The Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Environment Protection Authority have provided feedback on this draft.

This feedback has been included in the final document. The draft has also been through several community consultation processes and these comments have also been incorporated. Further feedback is being sought from the public and key stakeholders once placed on the public exhibition.

As part of the funding system, the development of the Domestic Waste Water

Management Plan, areas were identified and matrices prepared to assess the sewage or drinking water needs and risks. As a result of this process, a list of priority towns was developed.

A summary of the sewerage needs assessment findings from the Domestic

Waste Water Management Plan Appendix 10 – Sewage Needs Assessment


  • Development in these areas and rezoning is reducing vine properties of 4ha to Low-Density Residential allotments of 4,000m2.
  • The irrigation of vineyards has a considerable impact upon the groundwater table and the effectiveness of the septic system. This may give rise to contamination of the groundwater.
  • The Blue-Green Algae blooms present in the Murray River each summer may be contributed to by nutrients in contaminated groundwater from septic tanks.
  • The soil characteristics vary greatly across the region and this greatly influences the effectiveness of the septic tanks. Huge variations in the soil characteristic can often be only meters apart. CSIRO soil surveys were conducted in 1939, 1940 & 1941 and these maps show these variations clearly.

A summary of the drinking water needs assessment findings from the Domestic Wastewater Management Plan Appendix 11 – Drinking Water Needs

  • In the Mildura irrigated areas (including Koorlong, Birdwoodton, & Merbein West), present and future land rezoning is reducing vine properties of 4ha to Low-Density Residential allotments of 4,000m2.
  • There is reliance on water from rainwater tanks in all these areas.
  • Council’s objectives are to ensure that water supplied for human consumption in all of these areas meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 1996 and are thus free from pathogenic organisms.
  • Any upgrades or installations of reticulated water or treatment systems must be done in conjunction with the relevant water authority.

The action plan is divided into the following six key areas to address

  • Integration
  • Strategic Planning
  • Planning Approvals & Referrals Process
  • Education and Training
  • Operations
  • Regulation & Enforcement

The majority of the actions in the plan are the responsibility of the Council. However, some additional activities are proposed, such as a water quality monitoring project in Lake Hawthorn and Kings Billabong, which will be funded by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority. The development of an education campaign and the establishment of a process for monitoring domestic wastewater will be undertaken and it is intended that external funds in the form of grants, etc. will be sourced to assist in enabling some of these activities.

Policy/council plan context

Council Plan 2004-2008 states: Social & Community

Partner with our communities to develop and deliver services and facilities that sustain our vibrant communities and cater to the emerging lifestyle demands of all groups with services and facilities for the future.

The Domestic Waste Water Management Plan is consistent with Council’s other planning and guidance documents. Currently, there are several documents and planning tools relevant for the integration of domestic wastewater management. These include the Municipal Planning Scheme, Mildura Rural City Council Community Local Law No.2, and the inclusion of the Domestic Wastewater Management Plan in the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS). Council is also in the process of developing guidelines for Subdivision Development Design.

The Domestic Waste Water Management Plan forms part of a range of management activities undertaken by the Council in addressing domestic wastewater in the municipality. Further, it allows the widely varying risks associated with domestic wastewater (within the municipality and neighboring municipalities) to be identified and appropriate management strategies developed.

Financial & risk management considerations

An amount of $10,000 funding assistance for Infrastructure Planning Report.

An amount of $30,000 funding assistance from the Victorian Water Trust for the preparation of Priorities Report and Domestic Waste Water Management Plan.

Define criteria that establish the conditions to protect and maintain all the perceived beneficial uses of water assets.

Following the development of goals all stakeholders can agree to concern their efforts at sustaining water resources, criteria should be identified that establish the conditions deemed necessary to protect and maintain all the perceived beneficial uses of water assets. In essence, criteria provide a “lens” through which to evaluate the preferred future status of water (i.e., characteristics that best define water sustainability). Goals can be used to begin the in-depth, integrated assessment of watershed resources that lead to sustainability. These goals, which will represent stakeholder core values, should be formulated to address several fundamental principles that underlay the conservation, protection, remediation, and longevity of water resources. Such goals might include:

  • Provide safe and equal access to water supplies needed for domestic, municipal, industrial, agricultural, and hydropower uses.
  • Provide sufficient water quality/quantity to support ecological function.
  • Measure and protect against biological and ecological degradation in aquatic ecosystems and restore the integrity of degraded ecosystems.
  • Reduce discharges of pollutants into surface waters and eliminate contamination and overconsumption of groundwater.
  • Prevent human health risks due to the spread of waterborne diseases, water contamination, and hostile actions.
  • Prevent physical modifications from land use/ cover changes or hydrologic disturbances within watersheds that cause risks to humans, natural systems, and property.
  • Encourage a holistic, watershed-based approach to evaluate all water resource issues that are participatory, democratic, equitable, and socio-economically sensitive.
  • Develop appropriate water resource policies; institutional arrangements and structures; financial systems; and legal and regulatory authorities to achieve integrated water resources mana The definition of criteria is extremely important in this conceptual framework because, by choosing to develop criteria, stakeholders and managers are deciding to pursue a specific path. This path differs from making decisions based upon expressed stakeholder values. The choice of appropriate criteria can guide communities toward their anticipated outcomes, as defined by their goals, and introduce a process for establishing expected outcomes as well as a means of measuring progress toward those outcomes. Such criteria for water resources might include:

a) The quantity of groundwater is monitored, and these reserves are protected from pollution and depletion.

b) The water resource in question meets the quality and quantity for “designated uses.”

c) Fish taken from recreational and commercial fisheries are not contaminated.

d) Fish populations and other wildlife that rely on aquatic habitats and on the assemblages of species that inhabit aquatic ecosystems are healthy according to standards established by science.

e) In-stream flows are enhanced and protected for environmental benefits.

f) No actions are taken that will harm or threaten endangered species.

g) Industrial and municipal point sources of pollution are less than the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards for the water resource in question.

h) Non-point sources of polluted runoff and erosion from intensive land uses are monitored and sources eliminated through the use of best management practices.

i) Watershed-wide assessment programs exist to identify the full range of pollution sources within the watershed, and they use the TMDL approach or its equivalent to integrate a watershed approach.

j) Decisions on water quantity and quality are considered concurrently because they pose potentially contradictory challenges for water resource management and protection when evaluated separately.

k) Water conservation strategies are regularly relied upon for reducing waste of water, using water more efficiently, and meeting new demands upon existing water supplies.


More than one-sixth of the world’s population does not have access to safe water supplies. The potential conflicts from this disparity are frightening. The escalation of a water crisis in the world is due essentially to the unsustainable use and management of water resources and the destruction of ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and soil that capture, filter, store, and release water.

Recommendation that:

  • Council approve the exhibition of the Domestic Waste Water Management Plan for public comment for four weeks.
  • Domestic Waste Water
  • Management Plan

What is a Domestic Waste Water Management Plan (DWMP)?

A DWMP is a planning and management document to minimize the impact of domestic wastewater on human health and the local environment using a risk management approach. The MRCC DWMP aims to minimize the impact of domestic wastewater on public health and environmental values within the municipality. It has been prepared following the Model Municipal DWMP developed by the Municipal Association of Victoria in July 2005. Funding assistance has been provided through the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program.

Why do we need to manage domestic wastewater?

Many septic tank systems are not performing satisfactorily. Poor system performance is a threat to public health, reduces amenity, restricts development, and pollutes waterways.

Unsatisfactory septic tank performance is due primarily to:

  • Poor maintenance
  • Additional development on the property
  • Inadequate management practices by property owners
  • Non-compliance of systems with current legislative requirements

Development Process

MRCC Environmental Health Services team managed the development, with additional consultation from Infocus Management. Consultation sessions (two occasions) were held to seek input from internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, and the community.

Feedback was invited and reviewed after each session. Team meetings were scheduled weekly and using the “Australian Business Excellence Framework” meeting principles.

MRCC has undertaken a strategic assessment of sewage and drinking water needs. The areas of Koorlong, Nichols Point, Kings Billabong, Cabarita & Birdwoodton were identified as priority towns. This strategic assessment has led to the development of appropriate strategies and actions to prevent or minimize wastewater problems and impacts. The DWMP clearly articulates Council’s policy on wastewater and its management. Some strategies have already been implemented and these include:

  • Land Capability Assessments (LCA) for all effluent disposal by land
  • Standard design criteria for septic tank systems
  • Minimum lot sizes for new subdivisions based on land capability classes and onsite management of septic tank effluent.
  • Comprehensive conditions on permits for the disposal of effluent

Strategic Direction

  • Identify current responsibilities, practices, procedures, and obligations for domestic wastewater management in the municipality
  • Identify the main environmental values and wastewater threats in the municipality
  • Assist with the long term planning and development of unsewered areas in the municipality
  • Improve public health and environmental protection

The DWMP will provide the:

  • Clear priorities for funding septic management within the municipality
  • Strategies to address the priority factors contributing to domestic wastewater issues in high-risk areas of the municipality, and
  • Strategies to underpin ongoing monitoring and compliance

The goals of the DWMP are to:

  • Protect public health
  • Promote environmental best practices by reducing the impact of domestic wastewater in the local environment, and
  • Promote sustainable development of communities across the municipality by ensuring domestic wastewater is managed within the capability of the land

The objectives of the DWMP are to:

  • Develop short and long term strategies for the management of septic tank systems
  • Develop a case for the connection of unsewered urban and township areas to sewer where appropriate
  • Develop a strategy for the management of domestic wastewater in areas of the municipality where the provision of sewer is not possible, and
  • Identify opportunities for improvement in policy and procedures for domestic wastewater management

Key Outcomes & Strategies Community Education

  • Conduct a community education campaign for improved septic tank management.
  • Educate property owners on what is a septic tank system and the maintenance of septic tank systems.
  • Ensure that property owners are informed and aware of their septic tank conditions of use.
  • Develop and implement a communication strategy on the use of greywater.

Information Management and Data Collection

  • Establish an effective monitoring program for septic tank and aerated wastewater treatment plant (AWT) maintenance.
  • Compliance and Monitoring
  • Monitor maintenance and performance of wastewater systems that require high management eg. aerated wastewater treatment systems and septic tank systems in environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Monitor the receiving environments in high-risk areas to see if wastewater management is impacting environment values.
  • Review departmental policy and procedures concerning the septic tank approval process and information dissemination.

Building Better Partnerships within the Mildura Rural City Council and Stakeholders

  • Standardise the Land Capability Assessment process and reports by adopting the Model Land Capability Assessment Standardisation Tool.
  • Build better relationships between all key stakeholders to improve strategic planning and statutory planning.
  • Ensure that the Domestic Waste Water Management Plan is linked to other Council strategic documents.

Training and Standards

  • Complete in-house training of Planning and Development Services staff to ensure improved service delivery.
  • Complete training sessions with key stakeholders such as Land Capability Assessors, developers, plumbers, and building companies to improve the standard of septic tank applications, installations, and the monitoring of septic tank and aerated wastewater treatment systems.

Sewerage Infill

  • Plan with affected communities to provide innovative solutions to reduce negative impacts where septic tank systems are not operating satisfactorily, allotments are too small to allow on-site disposal, or are existing septic tank systems are impacting on the environment and human health.
  • Work with key stakeholders such as the Environment Protection Authority, Lower Murray Urban & Rural Water Authority, and Department of Sustainability and Environment to conduct responsive sewerage planning.
  • Work with key stakeholders to advocate for funding assistance from the state government to conduct sewerage infill in high-risk areas.

Legislative Changes

  • Advocate for changes to legislation to better manage and regulate septic tank systems in unsewered areas.
  • Advocate for changes to legislation to provide clear and consistent direction to Councils concerning greywater reuse.


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