Environmental Hazards

Helping our natural environment recover from natural hazards, and reducing their risk is a major part of Councils environmental work. These Natural hazards include, flooding, bushfire & storm damage.

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Reducing Bushfire Risk

Managing bushland reserves to minimise the threat of fire is an ongoing responsibility of Council.

We are only able to manage fire risk on properties we own or manage. Concerns regarding all privately owned land needs to be referred to the Rural Fire Service.

Private residents can help reduce the threat of fire to their property by reducing hazards within their boundaries. This needs to be carried out whilst still complying with Chapter 12 -Tree Preservation in Council's Development Control Plan 2013.  For advice on how to reduce the fire risk on your property, you should contact the Rural Fire Service.

If we consider that a particular reserve has a high fire risk, we are able to use a series of protection strategies. A common option is to create an Asset Protection Zone (APZ).  These are like "buffer zones" between the fire threat and the neighbouring property. To create an APZ, the land owner or manager needs to conduct a detailed environmental assessment of the area.

To manage an Asset Protection Zone, Council always needs cooperation from the neighbouring properties. For example, garden waste dumping and storage of flammable materials in surrounding gardens will reduce the effectiveness of the APZ, and may increase risk and hinder fire fighting access.

Please be aware that the establishment of an Asset Protection Zone near your property doesn't replace your own responsibility to keep your property 'bush fire ready'.

Fire Mitigation Plans

There are currently 10 plans that cover the requirements for specific areas within the Great Lakes:

Flooding Management

It's not possible to ensure that all rivers, drainage channels and pipes can cope with all flood levels. This would be far too expensive. We have to prioritize our investment in stormwater and floodplain management based on risk and the potential cost of flood damage.

For urban stormwater flooding, risk is managed by designing a 2-stage system:

1)      The Minor flood system is the underground pipe system.

2)      The Major flood system is used when the underground pipes can't cope. Flows are then handled by a surface system of roadways, paths, drainage reserves and easements. These flow to a trunk drainage system for safe disposal.

The way we calculate flood risk is very complicated. Flood heights are basically measured by their relation to sea level. Floods are also measured by how often they are likely to occur - Annual Recurrence Interval (ARI) and Annual Exceedence Probability (AEP). This likelihood allows us to estimate the damage costs.

Our Flood Management Policy uses the 1% AEP / 100 year ARI flood frequency as the design flood standard for planning and general risk management purposes.

The policy also sets the minimum habitable floor level required for a particular location. This is the 1% AEP flood height, plus an extra 0.50m.

Stormwater Drainage

Stormwater is the rainwater that flows over land or through pipes. Council is responsible for the major stormwater drainage facilities in the Great Lakes area, including stormwater pipes and culverts, concrete and earth open drains, detention basins, gross pollutant traps and constructed wetlands.  Land owners are responsible for stormwater facilities that service their own property.

Councils are encouraged by State Government  to implement a program of major improvements to stormwater management. They are funded by a stormwater levy.  This is in addition to funds already allocated in the budget for stormwater projects. Works include upgrading stormwater systems, gross pollutant trap and constructed wetland maintenance, stormwater reuse and harvesting programs, and community education.

Land within a town or village, both residential and business is eligible to be charged the stormwater levy. Vacant land, land exempt from rates, non-urban land and Crown land are all exempt. 

We are responsible for the cleaning of these drainage systems. If you know of a blocked or overgrown drain, you can report it here. Please note that in some instances, the reeds that grow in drains and wetlands help keep the lakes clean.  They slow down the flow of the water allowing sediments to drop out and nutrients to be absorbed.  These reeds will not be removed.

If you have a problem with stormwater run-off on your road or running off the street onto your property you can contact our customer service team or report it here.

Problems caused by surface or underground water drainage from one property to another are civil matters and must generally be resolved between neighbours.

Climate Change

It's predicted that "global warming" will potentially worsen the severity of flooding and coastal erosion though a combination of rising sea levels and more severe storms. Peak flood flows and depths will increase.

Great Lakes Council have adopted as policy the Sea Level Rise Benchmarks (NSW Government, 2009) of 0.50m by 2060 and 0.90m by 2100. These estimates may change with further scientific advice.  A review of Council sea level benchmarks is expected.  This will lead to a revision of Council's floodplain mapping and management.

The Floodplain Management Process

Great Lakes Council, along with NSW Office of Environment and Heritage conducts flood studies for all lakes and rivers in the region. The "Great Lakes Floodplain Management Committee" provides a forum for community, Council and state authority discussion on the floodplain management process.

There are 4 stages in floodplain management:

1)      Flood Study - Determines the actual flood behaviour and the extent of the flood problem.

2)      Floodplain Risk Management Study - Evaluates various management options for the floodplain, considering existing and proposed developments.

3)      Floodplain Risk Management Plan - Confirms the management measures and costs before acceptance by Council.

4)      Plan Implementation - Involves project planning to put the floodplain management solutions in place, whilst making sure they are compatible with existing Local Environmental Plans.

Flood Management Studies and Plans

Most flood studies, risk management studies and plans are available for download using the links below. They are also available for viewing at Council's Forster Office. Copies may also be purchased by contacting Council on (02) 6591 7222. In circumstances where more detailed flood study interpretation is required it may be necessary to consult a registered surveyor and/or suitably qualified engineer.

Because of the large file size of these documents, some have been broken into more manageable downloadable segments.

Group 1: Wallis Lake

Group 2: Port Stephens and Lower Myall

Group 3: Wallamba River and Nabiac

Group 4: Bulahdelah and Upper Myall

Group 5: Smiths Lake

Group 7: Karuah River

Flooding Certificates

Written information relating to flooding on a specific property can be purchased from Council by applying for the following Certificates:

Flood Levels Certificate:

This certificate shows the availability and standard of available flooding information for a particular property. If available, the certificate will give an estimated flood level. It can only give information that Council has available, and doesn't take into account Council's planning controls or policies. 

Prior to making an application for the Flood Levels Certificate please contact Council to confirm that the information is available for the property in question. A fee is required to be paid at the time of application. Please allow approximately five working days for processing.

Coastal Management

The Great Lakes coastline extends approximately 145 kilometres from Nine Mile (Tuncurry) Beach in the north to the northern shore of the Port Stephens estuary in the south.  The coastal environment of this region is diverse, consisting of beaches, headlands and three coastal lake systems fed from hinterland rivers

Council has a legal obligation to provide detailed, high quality information on coastal hazards.  This information is used by Council in coastal zone planning and protection. The NSW Government requirements for Coastal Zone Management include the following principal stages:

Stage 1: Conduct a Coastal Hazards Study, which identifies and evaluates hazards and management issues.

Great Lakes Council has finished these studies for all Council beaches in the region. The documents can be downloaded below:

In addition, we carried out further investigation on Boomerang Beach and Blueys Beach using ground penetrating radar to clarify subsurface conditions:

Stage 2: Produce a Coastal Zone Management Study and Plan - (CZMP). This looks at risk levels for coastal assets, formulates management options and develops an implementation schedule.

Council is currently working on CZMPs for our beaches to investigate how to combat the evident coastal erosion and recession. The plans include looking at the management of beach features and facilities such as parking, surf clubs, community use, dune and headland vegetation, water quality, cultural heritage and biodiversity. We also surveyed the community to get opinions regarding their beach usage, concerns and values.

As our CZMP work continues on our beaches, all future community engagement will be arranged to address a range of local issues including drop-in information sessions at relevant local venues.       

A consolidated Great Lakes CZMP Management Options Study has been produced. The report is available for download below.

Great Lakes CZMP including the Options Study has been finalised and was adopted by Council on 24th November 2015. It has been forwarded to the Minister for Planning for completion of the certification process. The CZMP will be subject to a regular 5-10 year review cycle to reflect coastal monitoring and advances in scientific understanding.

Water Pollution

Water pollution is a major environmental issue within the Great Lakes region. Water pollution commonly occurs as a result of harmful substances such as litter, sediment, organic matter, chemicals and fertilisers being washed down stormwater drains and street gutters. Because the stormwater drains are designed to feed into waterways, the water is not treated. Pollutants within this system will enter our local creeks, rivers and beaches. Pollution may also enter our waterways directly from a number of sources such as boats leaking oil, dumping of rubbish, etc.  Both these types of pollution have a negative effect on the health of our local waterways.

As water pollution originates from the everyday activities we carry out at home, work and play, we all have an important role to play in preventing water pollution.

Council is currently undertaking a number of initiatives to help residents, businesses and industry reduce water pollution. We are also planning for future development and installing stormwater improvement devices where possible.

Contaminated Land

Land can become contaminated through exposure from chemicals, oils, asbestos and other substances.  Contaminated land may have restricted uses and permissions. Some types of contamination must be removed immediately if it may affect public health or the environment.

Contamination clean-up is costly, both financially and environmentally. Therefore it makes sense to try and avoid land contamination in the first. The most effective way is to ensure all waste, liquid and solid is disposed of correctly and does not come into contact with the land.

Wood Smoke Pollution

During the winter, the smoke from domestic wood heaters causes a lot of air pollution.  Wood smoke pollution affects everyone.  It is bad for your health and the health of others in your community.

To prevent wood smoke pollution:

  • Only burn dry wood.
  • Never let your heater smoulder for long periods. Keep the flame lively and bright.
  • Check to see if your chimney is smoking and have your chimney cleaned every year.

Council Officers have the power to issue smoke abatement notices and on-the-spot fines of $200 to occupiers that allow excessive smoke to be emitted from chimneys in residential homes.  A smoke abatement notice directs a householder to make necessary improvements, maintenance or repairs to ensure that excessive smoke is not emitted from their chimneys.

Excessive Smoke is basically when the smoke is in a visible plume which is at least 10 metres long. Common causes of excessive smoke:

  • Insufficient kindling.
  • Too much firewood in the heater.
  • Turning the air control to "slow burn" too soon after light-up or refuelling
  • Trying to burn a single large log.
  • Adding firewood without opening the air control,
  • Incorrectly placed log which blocks the air supply to the base of the fire.
  • Use of wood that is too wet. 
  • Installation or maintenance problems.

For further information call Council's Environmental Health Officer or visit the Woodsmoke Reduction Program .

Open Burning

Under the NSW Control of Burning Regulation states that:

1)      Rubbish can't be burnt.

2)      Vegetation can only be burnt following approval from Council.  You will need to complete the Application Form or contact us.

3)      Permits are required by the Rural Fire Service within the Statutory Fire Danger Period (usually 1 October - 31st March each year).  

For further information refer to our fact sheet below.