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Effluent services - notice

Shoalhaven Water has completed the review on effluent servicing needs and for which the current contract expires in February 2018. Details about the background to the review can be found in the various discussion points below together with the information provided late in 2016 to each customer of the effluent removal service.  Information has also been provided in the discussion points about how customers can obtain details on the alternative service providers for effluent or septic tank cleanout services outside of any Council contract arrangement.  This page will be updated continually until new charges which might be generated from a new contract and which would be effective from 1 July 2018.

Shoalhaven Water currently manages a contract for the removal of human waste from properties not connected to the reticulated sewerage system. This contract expires in early 2018 and it is expected that customers will experience significant cost increases due to a significantly reduced number of properties that require the service.

Shoalhaven Water is consulting with customers (and the commercial market) to ascertain the impacts of not continuing with a contracted service. The commercial market consists of waste removal operators both in the Shoalhaven and from surrounding areas and who could undertake a range of similar services.

Shoalhaven Water provided Council with a report containing details of the situation and this was tabled at the Strategy & Assets Committee on 19 July 2017. A link to that report can be found within the Additional Information at the bottom of this page. A further report will be submitted to Council once more information is obtained and this will include the results of a customer survey. The survey is currently being undertaken to seek feedback from all the effluent customers and this is being done via the annual Christmas extra effluent service letter. The survey is being done now because our early discussions with private operators is showing they are interested in servicing properties outside of a contract arrangement with Shoalhaven Water.

There are already a number of private operators either undertaking septic tank cleanouts in the Shoalhaven or licensed to do so. All effluent scheduled and extra services are currently performed under a contract with Shoalhaven Water however and therefore it is important to ascertain whether these private operators can and/or are interested in doing this aspect of the work as well.

Customers have always had the ability to make their own arrangements to have systems serviced outside of any contract but in the past there hasn’t appeared to be an active commercial market for effluent servicing. This appears to have now changed and with the reduced number of properties requiring the service, it may be a more cost effective way for customers to proceed based on their individual property servicing needs demand. For example;

  • a customer with a property that is only being used during holidays could arrange with a private operator to service the property during that time only and negate the need for a schedule service every 8 weeks under the contract
  • a customer could negotiate pricing with a private operator, again based on their property servicing demand
  • the timeframe to have a service performed or the amount removed could be arranged to suit the customer and/or the operator, and
  • the volume of effluent removed from systems can be negotiated with a private operator.

The continuation of a contracted arrangement following a competitive tendering process will most likely result in higher costs for customers of the service. This is due to;

  • the reduced number of properties now requiring service,
  • the % of cost increase experienced between the current and last contract, and
  • the length of time and cost increases (fuel and labour) since the last tender was submitted in 2012.

The discussion points below have been identified as being relevant to the situation and it is felt worthwhile to address these in point form.

Reader’s feedback is of immense importance at this time and Shoalhaven Water is encouraging the public to seek information which might be of particular interest to them or their property situation and provide us with their comments. As part of this process, Shoalhaven Water is taking feedback by email or phone as follows;

Further discussion points will be included following the survey or on request if required.

Discussion Points – Update 28 September 2017

Shoalhaven Water is currently seeking a contracted arrangement for Human Waste Removal Services through a competitive tendering process. Customers can view the tender which contains the state of requirement for the conduct of services over the period of the contract. 

To view the tender documents visit and register at Tender Link

Discussion Points – October 2016

What is Shoalhaven Water doing to assess the viability of a continued contract arrangement or the alternative option for customers?

The first step in this process was to review alternative means by which services could be conducted under a contract but in a different way to the current system. For example; options regarding the flexibility for customers to have tanks serviced based on a requested volume to be extracted v’s a pump to empty requirement as is currently the case. A single charge for services regardless of the volume removed and “on demand” servicing requests v’s the current schedule option and excess charged separately for amounts greater than 2,500 litres.

A number of other local government areas utilise alternative servicing rules which include contracted arrangement, private operators and nil excess charging. There is no common structure as situations are dictated by the number of customers, distance, commercial availability of an operator and demand.

Whilst the current system and charging for scheduled services ranging between weekly to 8 weekly is not always suitable for some property owners, it does provide a structured plan for contractors to manage trucks, service timeframes and travel. This is particularly important given the large distance involved in transporting waste to the sewerage treatment plants and provides a cost effect use of the transport resources. The structure of a servicing schedule also assists to reduce urban traffic concerns and is consistent with the “user pay” principle for charging of services.

If a contract was continued how much would the charges increase by?

This is largely unknown at this time. As a guide, the increase in the contractor charge at the last tender ranged across the services between 23 to 70%. As the tender was last advertised in 2012 it is expected that cost increases will again occur. The last tender followed very soon after the decline began to the number of properties requiring service. That number has now stabilised but it is lower than previously.

Shoalhaven Water has always had a price policy of full cost recovery and this is being achieved by capping increases and staffing changes. Costs for all effluent and septic waste removal are separated from any general rates revenue. That ensures that only those customer that receive the service, pay for the service (user pay). Whilst the annual charge for the service is levied via the rates notice, it is not treated as a general rate nor used for any other purpose than to pay for the costs of providing effluent services.

Most effluent removal charges have seen increases annually by less than 5% in recent years. The higher costs following the last contract were largely absorbed by staffing changes but any further significant increase in contractor costs would be passed onto customers of the service.

What is the property owner’s responsibility in obtaining and maintaining the servicing arrangements?

There was a suite of changes to NSW legislation in 1998 that meant owners or operators of on-site sewage systems at properties (septic, effluent or aerated systems) are required to apply to Council for approval to operate their system. Shoalhaven City Council’s Planning & Development Services Group (Environmental Services) has the responsibility to manage and issue these approvals.

Inspections are regularly carried out by Council staff to ensure that the sewage systems installed on properties are operating effectively. Having a contract in place for effluent and septic tank wastes removal together with servicing records of aerated system maintenance schedules provides a good record for property owners and Council to understand the demand and performance of the systems.

If a contract arrangement was not continued, it would be the responsibility of the property owner to make suitable arrangements with a commercial operator of their choice to ensure the systems are serviced effectively.

What is the timeline for a decision and how will property owners know what is happening?

A decision about whether Shoalhaven Water will tender for the service must be reached by early 2017. Once all the customer responses to the survey are considered a report will be provided to Council.

This page on the Shoalhaven Water website will be updated as further information becomes available including the summarised results from the survey. It is also intended to provide the contact details of commercial operators on the website if a contract arrangement is not proceeding. This will enable customers to contact direct with companies to make servicing arrangements to suit.

What are the benefits of staying under a contracted arrangement ?

The benefits of a contract arrangement probably differ based on the individual property demand and use. Certainly what is a common benefit for all customers under a contract arrangement is the condition that a contractor must perform a service within a strict timeframe. Additionally, the contractor must have a means by which to perform services regardless of the location within the city. Conversely however, this does come at a contract cost which it is expected would be factored into any tender price submitted.

What are the consequences of not having a contract arrangement?

Customers will be required to “shop around” for their property servicing needs. This is possible now but there has been a limited number of companies interested in specifically providing an effluent removal service. There are a number of companies already providing septic tank cleanout services and there has been an interest shown to expanding into effluent removal.

Could there be an option for property owners to select from a contract service or private arrangement?

There has never been a requirement nor could Council enforce property owners to only use a contracted service, so this is possible now but there has not been much interest shown commercially.

With a contract it is necessary to specify servicing conditions for contract management. Together with a relatively small number of customers that actually require the service, the increased market interest and a situation where customers opt in or out of servicing, such an option would not be cost effective. Under a contract the operator would be required to perform a service regardless of difficulty, time and distance wherein a commercial operator could “elect” to perform or not perform a service based on a commercial decision.

Discussion Points – Update 12 December 2016

The level of customer feedback from the survey addressing the information provided with the Christmas Effluent Services about the future of the service has not been high. 37% of the customers using the service have responded to the information and completed the survey thus far. Whilst there remain a few more weeks before the peak holiday period, Shoalhaven Water is hopeful of more returns being submitted so that we have better insight into customer views. Some common questions have been asked however and these have been expanded on below. For some customers who sought specific questions relative to their situation, staff have attempted to follow these up separately.

Q. It’s hard to give a view when we don’t know how much any price increase will be.

It is unknown how much any price increase will be. If the effluent service continues to be conducted under a Council contract arrangement, this would be done through a competitive tendering process. Charges to customers for effluent removal services are largely driven by the costs tendered in this process and this won’t be known until late 2017 if services continue under the current arrangement. Using the last contract process and the level of price increase at that time, increases of between 23 to 70% occurred.

Similar increases are very possible and that is why Shoalhaven Water is posing the option for customers to seek individual servicing arrangements with the commercial market.

Q. When will sewerage services be provided to Bawley Point, Kioloa, Depot Beach and Durras North?

There is no immediate plan to provide reticulated sewer to these unserviced areas and historically there has not been a high community demand for either water supply or sewerage services.

Q. We pay rates the same as other regions provided with reticulated services.

The general rates are levied across all properties in the city and which are based largely on land values. The rates help pay for general Council services provided to the community. Sewerage, water, waste and effluent differ in that they are all pay for use type charges and only apply to those properties provided with those services. The costs of those services are not used from the general rate and this ensures no cross subsidy and only properties pay for the services that are available.

Discussion Points – Update 19 January 2017

Shoalhaven Water have been in contact with a number of commercial operators around the region to gauge the interest in expanding their operations and to discuss issues which might be of concern in servicing properties. As Shoalhaven Water has the responsibility to treat any wastes disposed to its sewerage treatment plants, it will be necessary to continue working with all commercial operators to ensure our facilities are safely accessible and that all the necessary legislative licences are obtained. There has been a good level of interest by the commercial market.

759 customers currently use the effluent removal service and this includes residential, commercial and some government agencies. Surveys were sent to all these customers and a response rate of 40% was achieved. The survey results are being reviewed. An outcome report and recommendation on the future of effluent services will be prepared for further consideration by Council. This public document will be available on the website and will include the date that it will be presented to Council. In addition, Shoalhaven Water will again write to each customer summarising the outcome report with an invitation to contact Shoalhaven Water for more detailed information if required.

Discussion Points – Update 2 February 2017

Council will consider a report by Shoalhaven Water at the Strategy & Assets Committee meeting on 21 February 2017. A link to the report will be provided in the additional information section under once it becomes publically available. Customers who use the human waste removal service are encouraged to read the document which will be available shortly at the following link.

Shoalhaven Water have received a 40% response to the survey and a summary of that survey is contained in the report. Whilst there is a commercial market available for customers to use for their property servicing needs, 72% of the respondents to the survey were in favour of a continued Shoalhaven Water contracted arrangement even when the charges increase (Question 2 of the survey).

In addition to the survey responses a number of customers and a community association provided individual submissions on the review. Some feedback from customers also indicated a belief that Council has a responsibility under the Local Government Act to provide a removal service for human waste at unsewered properties. This is not correct. Council's obligation under the Local Government Act is to approve the operation of systems of sewage management upon properties.

This includes matters relating to plans, specifications, sites, operation and maintenance on applications to install or construct sewage waste systems. Shoalhaven is one of only two Councils that actually provide an ongoing effluent removal service with most areas (including the neighbouring Councils Eurobodalla and Wingecarribee) relying on commercial operators to perform this task.

Council is aware of the concerns that customers have about the future of effluent services and the recommendation by Shoalhaven Water is to continue with a contracted option on the basis of full cost recovery from customers that utilise the service.

Discussion Points – Update 17 February 2017

Agenda and reports to the Council Strategy & Assets Committee is now available at the following link

For customers that only want to read the report on the review of effluent services a copy of the document will be available early next week at the additional information panel below.

Discussion Points – Update 2 March 2017

Council considered the report on the future of human waste removal services and resolved to seek tenders for the service. Tenders will be sought mid 2017 to allow for a new contract to commence in March 2018. The charge to customers for services provided under the contract will be full cost recovery from 1 July 2018. Customers will be able to consider the amount of the charges resulting from the tender process through the normal public exhibition of Councils fees and charges in early 2018.

Customers will be able to assess at that time whether they wish to avail themselves of the contract service option or make alternative arrangements to the property servicing needs.

A further update will be provided in the coming months.

Discussion Points – Update 28 August 2017

Customers can avail themselves of the Council contracted service arrangement for their property human waste removal needs.  There is no obligation for customers to do so however and they may wish to utilise an alternative provider from the commercial market.  Property owners are always responsible to ensure that the operation of systems on their property meet the approval conditions.  Alternative commercial providers able to remove waste can be found via the internet or yellow page sites under waste removal.