Common Wastewater Questions
View the most commonly asked questions about wastewater below.
What and where is my house drain?
Each property that is connected to Townsville Water's sewerage network has a private sanitary drain (otherwise known as house drain), that is usually a gravity drain. It connects to our sewerage system at the property connection point, which is usually located inside the property boundary, but may be outside, and even some distance away from the property.
Download these documents for more information:
Who is responsible for the sewers?
Townsville Water owns and is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the sewerage network, up to and including the Riser (sometimes called the Jump-up). In some properties this Riser will come to the surface where an Inspection Outlet (IO) marks the boundary between TWW’s sewerage network and the property’s house drain line.
You or your plumber must not do any work in Council's sewerage network.
The property owner owns the house drain from the home to the Riser or IO and is responsible for repairs and maintenance of the house drain including clearing of blockages located within the house drain.
Please note: It is unlawful for an unlicensed person to undertake works on regulated drainage. Any works conducted on your house drain needs to be undertaken by a licensed plumber or drainer.
When the house drain extends beyond the property owner’s land, it is the property owner’s responsibility to obtain any necessary approvals to carry out work on that other land.
Can Council staff come onto my property?
Under section 36 of the Water Supply (Safety & Reliability) Act 2008, staff of Townsville Water and Townsville City Council who are authorised ("Authorised Persons") may enter a place to work on our sewerage infrastructure.
Unless the works are considered urgent, our staff will seek your consent to the entry, and/or give 14 days' notice.
What can cause blockages and overflows?
What The Flush
Are you aware of what you flush and put down drains on a daily?
Council attends to approximately 1,500 pipe blockages in the community every year. Blockages occur when non-biodegradable and non-flushable items such as baby wipes or menstrual products, that do not break down easily stop the flow of water in the pipes. When pipe blockages occur, any substances that are flushed or poured down drains after typically come back up – often very unpleasant and always unwelcomed!
Council is committed to educating the community and advocating the protection and promotion of our dry tropics and reef coast. To deliver on this commitment, the What The Flush campaign aims to highlight the importance of healthy and clean sewer systems, and inform the community on the most efficient and responsible way to dispose of their waste.
If non-flushable items that go down your drains do not end up causing a blockage or resurfaces – this means it has ended up in the ocean, where it will not break down and has the potential to cause harm to wildlife. Let’s work together to be conscious of our waterways.
- Toilet paper
- Sink and toilet-safe cleaning products
- Bodily fluids and solids
Do not flush
- Cat/kitten litter
- Clothing, materials, or toys
- Earbuds, cotton balls, and band-aids
- Food scraps or packaging
- Garden chemicals
- Grease, fat, and oil
- Loose hair, dental floss, and dust
- Medications and unsafe chemicals
- Sand, rocks, and dirt
- Sanitary products: pads and tampons
- Twigs and sticks
- Wet wipes, paper towels, and tissues
What do I do if I have a blockage?
Slow-draining sinks, toilets or showers, or a sewage overflow that occurs in dry weather could be a sign of a blockage in your pipes, or ours.
Townsville Water recommends that in the event of problems with your house drain you call Council's 24-hour service on 13 48 10. Our staff will then assess the problem and either send a team to investigate and rectify the problem or recommend that you call a private plumber.
If Townsville Water staff attend your property and find the blockage to be located in your house drain then you can request that we clear the blockage, for the standard blockage clearing fee plus the costs of any excavation or removal of structures or paving that may be required to access the drain. Alternatively you can call a private plumber.
If your plumber finds that the blockage or defect is in Townsville Water's sewerage network, they must get permission prior to undertaking any works in our system. We will reimburse property owners for authorised work conducted on our sewerage network, including property services up to the value of the standard sewerage blockage fee.
Please note: Council does not clear house drain blockages on commercial properties.
Download and complete this form to claim reimbursement:
- Blockage Reimbursement Form (PDF, 142.9 KB)
What if I live on Magnetic Island?
Townsville Water does not clear and repair house drains on Magnetic Island so you will need to always call a private plumber in the first instance.
What about sewage overflow clean up?
If your property, home or building has been impacted by a sewage overflow, as result of a problem with our sewerage network, we will complete an initial clean-up, which involves removing any solid material and rinsing and disinfecting the affected area to kill off bacteria and remove smell associated with sewage. Townsville Water does not clean the interior of the home or building and the contents contained within.
If you believe your property has been damaged as a result of the sewage overflow you will need to lodge a claim with your insurer, who will organise the restoration of your property and will liaise with us about your insurance claim.
If your property is not insured, find out how you can make a claim on our Complaints page.
What is an Overflow Relief Gully (ORG)?
The Overflow Relief Gully (ORG) is a key feature of the house drain. It’s a grated outlet located outside the home or building near an external wall to prevent sewage overflows occurring inside the home or building. The level of the top of the ORG should be 150 millimetres below the lowest fixture or drain located in the home or building that is connected to the house drain. If a blockage occurs in Townsville Water's sewer or in the house drain, the ORG grated cap should pop off to allow release of sewage outside the home or building.
To protect your home from sewage overflows, ORGs must be installed in accordance with plumbing regulations, kept in good condition and working correctly. Please ensure that:
- the top level of the ORG is located 75 millimetres above the finished surface level of the surrounding ground or finished at a level that prevents ponding and ingress of water if the ORG is located in a paved area
- storm water drains and down pipes are not directed to the ORG
- any pool backwash discharge to the ORG is in accordance with plumbing regulations
- the ORG is not covered by any landscaping, or structure and is kept clear of leaves
- the grate covering the ORG is loosely fitted and can easily pop off
- overflows are directed away from the house and can drain away quickly.
During a storm event if sewage is starting to overflow inside your home or building, ensure your ORG is clear of obstructions and the grate is loose fitting.
In some properties the ORG is susceptible to being below water during a rain/ flooding event. As we detect these gullies TWW staff will fit an ORC (Overflow Relief Cap) inside the gully. This ORC will prevent water from entering the sewerage network but will also allow sewage to flow out of the gully if it is ever required.
Why does sewage overflow in wet weather?
Storm water and sewerage networks are separate systems, designed differently to meet different needs. On average, sewer pipes are much smaller in diameter than storm water pipes. Sometimes rainwater can overwhelm the storm water network and spill over into the sewer system, which causes sewage to back up and may lead to overflows.
Also, some customers have illegal connections of storm water to their Overflow Relief Gully (ORG) or the stormwater diversion valves in outdoor wash bays have failed. Townsville Water manages a Smoke Testing Program to identify any illegal connections and defects in house drains and property connections.
- Sewer Connections Factsheet (PDF, 1.0 MB)
What is an illegal sewage connection?
Council's wastewater network is designed to transport sewage and wastewater from homes or businesses to the wastewater treatment plants via house drains, sewers and pumping stations.
Inflow and/or infiltration is any external source of water, stormwater or groundwater that enters the wastewater network.
The majority of inflow is caused by:
- illegal rainwater connections into the wastewater network; and/or
- landscaping that diverts stormwater into manholes or overflow relief gullies (ORGs).
Read more to find out if you or someone you know has an illegal connection to the sewerage:
- Illegal Sewer Connections Factsheet (PDF, 1.0 MB)
What is the Smoke Testing Program?
Townsville Water runs a Smoke Testing Program each year that aims to detect illegal connections of storm water to the sewerage network and any defects in house drains or our sewage network.
Smoke is pumped into the sewer main via manholes to predetermined areas, and our staff visit properties in the affected area to investigate whether any smoke is escaping. Our staff will also inspect each property to look for low ORGs, broken house drains, stormwater pipes directed towards ORGs and any other problems that may allow stormwater into our sewerage network.
This is an Approved Inspection Program under section 133 of the Local Government Act 2009. Section 134 of the Act allows authorised persons entry onto properties for this purpose, and we appreciate your assistance. Please note that we are not permitted to access any structure used for residential purposes.
We will advertise any new smoke testing program in the Townsville Bulletin, and advise residents by letterbox drop 24 to 48 hours before access is required. Please ensure that any dogs are secured to allow safe entry onto your property.
If smoke enters your property you may have a seal on your toilet that has perished, or a water trap inside the house is broken or has dried out, or there are other problems with your house drainage lines that need to be fixed by your private plumber.
Please be assured that the smoke is not harmful and does not present a health risk. It is food oil-based and can be removed by opening your windows and doors for a few minutes.
If you have other questions about our Smoke Testing Program please call 13 48 10 during business hours or speak to our friendly staff on the day of the inspection.
For more information read the:
- Sewer Smoke Testing Factsheet (PDF, 3.2 MB)
What is a storm water diversion (SDR) valve?
Outdoor wash bays are permitted to drain to sewer when being used, but any rainwater needs to be diverted to the stormwater system. We therefore require that wash bays have a storm water diversion valve (SDR), to prevent stormwater entering the sewerage network. This will be a condition of your Trade Waste Approval.
They normally work by a valve connected to the hose - when the hose is on, the pressure opens the valve to allow the washwater to go to sewer. Some also allow the diversion of the "first flush" to sewer, and others include a rain sensor.
To ensure the SDR is working adequately, we ask that you check it each year:
- Check the valve is in the closed position when the hose to the wash down bay is turned off.
- Turn on the hose and check the valve opens, allowing discharge to sewer.
If it is not operating properly, you will need to call a licensed plumber or drainer to fix it.
What can I do with my swimming pool water?
Pool filter backwash water must be:
- discharged to a grassed, vegetated or garden area, or a stone-filled trench. Any surface run-off resulting from the discharge should be contained within the property boundaries; or
- discharged into the sewer via the overflow relief gully.
Note: This advice is only for residential pools. Commercial pools need a trade waste approval to discharge to sewer.
To ease the burden on the sewer network during wet weather events, do not undertake filter backwashing until 48 hours after the start of a wet weather event.
Pool overflow water from rain events may be directed onto landscape areas which are mulched or vegetated with chlorine-tolerant plants (or salt-tolerant plans if a salt water pool). The overflow water must not be allowed to enter a stormwater drain.
If emptying your pool, we prefer the maintenance water to be discharged to the property in a manner that will prevent environmental harm (such as creation of odours and breeding conditions for insects when water ponds for long periods). If this is option is not available, Council approves of the discharge of pool maintenance drainage water into Council’s sewerage network provided that:
- the water is clean (e.g. no algal growth)
- chlorine concentration is below 5 mg/L
- the discharge occurs at least 48 hours after a wet weather event
- a flow restriction device is used to reduce discharge rate to less than 40 litres per minute.
The maintenance water must not be allowed to enter a stormwater drain.
How do I de-chlorinate pool water?
Follow these steps:
- Shut off the chlorination system or stop adding chlorine.
- Hold the water in the pool for several days to allow the chlorine to dissipate naturally.
- Measure the chlorine level in the pool using a readily available chlorine test kit. Chlorine concentration should be below 0.1 mg/L because even at low concentrations chlorine is harmful to fish and other aquatic life.
- If necessary, use chlorine-countering chemicals to neutralise the water before draining. There are many chemicals available to de-chlorinate your pool. Seek advice from pool chemical suppliers and follow the instructions on using the chemical carefully, including all safety precautions.
What is the difference between sewage and sewerage?
Good question! I'm glad you asked...
- Sewerage is a network of pipes and pumps.
- Sewage is the brown liquid that travels through the sewers.
What penalties are there?
Under section 193 of the Water Supply (Safety & Reliability) Act 2008 it is an offence to discharge a prohibited substance into the sewerage system.
Prohibited substances include:
- any object that may "obstruct sewerage, or interfere with the operation of sewerage"
- storm water
- a flammable substance
The maximum penalty is 1665 penalty units, so please, only flush the 3 Ps, ensure that your storm water is not discharging to sewer and never ever put fuels down the sewer!
There are also penalties under section 128G of the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002 for not maintaining a sanitary drain.