SECTION HEADER Water Sewerage

MelbourneHistory of Melbourne's water supply

The first Australians arrived in this country at least 40,000 years ago, possibly as much as 100,000 years ago. Koories, as the descendants of these first immigrants are now known, had no need for complicated water supply or sewerage disposal systems.

Instead, Koori tribes, such as the Bunerong people that lived on the eastern shores of Port Phillip Bay and on the Mornington Peninsula, relied on streams and springs, or dug shallow wells to tap supplies of underground water.

Because of their relatively small populations and nomadic lifestyle, the disposal of wastes was also a simple matter for Koories.

All of this changed in 1788 when European settlement of Australia began. The European population rapidly increased leading to the building of more and larger towns. At the same time many new industries were being developed.

These factors all meant that systems needed to be created to supply water and to dispose of sewage and so the story of building water supply and sewage disposal systems began.

1770 - James Cook charted the east coast of Australia.

1788 - The first European settlement in Australia was established in Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip with a little over 1,000 convicts and marines.

1798 - Bass Strait was discovered by George Bass. Within ten years, the first sealers and whalers had moved into the Port Phillip district.

1802 - Lieutenant John Murray was the first European to have officially sailed into Port Phillip Bay. He did so as commander of the Lady Nelson on 9 March, 1802. Later that year, following reports of two French ships (the Geographic and Naturaliste) in the area, Governor King asked the British Home Office to establish a settlement in Port Phillip.

1803 - The first attempt at settlement of the Port Phillip district was on the Mornington Peninsula when Colonel David Collins established camp at Sullivan's Bay, near Sorrento. Water supply was a problem from the start. The only source of water for almost 400 convicts, marines and free settlers were six wooden barrels sunk in the sand to tap groundwater.

1804 - On January 30, Collins moved the settlement to the new Tasmanian town of Hobart. Convict William Buckley escaped from the Sullivan's Bay settlement before the move to Hobart. Buckley then lived with Koories at Queenscliff until he walked into John Batman's camp in 1835. Like the Koories that he lived with, Buckley survived by drinking water from creeks and springs.

1835 - Although settlement of the Port Phillip area had gradually grown after Colonel Collins left Sorrento in 1804, it was not until 1835 that John Batman officially laid claim to the establishment of Melbourne.

1840 - Only five years after its official beginning, Melbourne rivalled Sydney as the commercial capital of Australia. Its population had reached 7,000 and land close to Melbourne had been quickly taken up by settlers. Water pumps were installed on the northern bank of the Yarra River. Men with water carts sold water, door to door, for three shillings a barrel, equal to about 30 cents for 550 litres.

1851 - Victoria became a colony in its own right. For the next 50 years many farms and a few small towns were gradually established in the district. Local creeks and springs, along with abundant underground water, were initially used to supply these farms and towns. However, as settlements grew, calls for a reliable water supply system gathered support.

1853 - The Board of Commissionaires of Sewers and Water Supply was formed and did a great deal to provide water for Melbourne. However, the provision of sewerage services had to wait almost another 40 years.

1857 - Yan Yean Reservoir was completed and began to supply water to Melbourne, which by now had a population of 100,000. The first water rate was one shilling in the pound (5 cents in the dollar) on the value of each property served and the charge for water was four shillings per 100 gallons (40 cents per 4,546 litres).

1891 - The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was formed. Just 56 years after its official establishment, Melbourne had grown to a city of half a million people. To provide water to this rapidly growing city, especially the eastern suburbs, the Watts River (near Healesville) was tapped. It supplied water to Melbourne, via the Maroondah aqueduct.

1890s - Much of the new MMBW's finances and energy were directed to the provision of sewerage for Melbourne. This was also a time of depression when Melbourne's population growth slowed and unemployment was high.

1910 - By this year there were 123,227 connections to the water supply system and 105,993 connections to the sewerage system. At this time there were many complaints about water quality and lack of water pressure in some higher areas in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

1914 - Following a very dry year, the MMBW decided to increase Melbourne's water storage capacity.

1916 - After many years of Mornington Peninsula residents calling for a reliable water supply, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SR&WSC) began construction of the Bunyip Main Race and the Beaconsfield and Frankston reservoirs. The Bunyip Main Race is an aqueduct that still carries water from the Bunyip River, 60 kilometres to Beaconsfield. By 1930, work was completed and most major towns in the northern section of the Mornington Peninsula had access to a reticulated water supply.

1917 - Planning for the construction of Silvan Reservoir commenced.

1927 - Construction of Silvan reservoir commenced and by 1932 was completed. Silvan Reservoir was Melbourne's first offstream storage and increased the city's storage capacity by 75 per cent.

1930s - The Great Depression of the early 1930s, meant that many people were out of work and major projects ceased. This was also a time when the MMBW fought hard to defend its policy of maintaining closed water catchments.

1936 - Following The Great Depression, work commenced on supplying reticulated water to the southern bayside towns from Dromana to Portsea. By 1943 this work was finished, bringing the 1916 plan to completion.

1940 - A very dry summer in 1937/38 resulted in water restrictions being imposed in Melbourne. As a result, the MMBW decided to double Melbourne's water supply by building the Upper Yarra Reservoir.

1946 - After delays caused by World War II and another two summers of water restrictions in 1945 and 1946, construction began on the Upper Yarra Reservoir and a major scheme of pipelines and tunnels to bring more water to Melbourne.

1950 - Following World War II, rapid population growth in Melbourne and on the Mornington Peninsula meant that new supplies of water were urgently required. In 1950, construction began on a 26 kilometre aqueduct that would carry water from the Tarago River to the Bunyip River, and from there on to supply the Peninsula. Work was slowed by a recession and was only completed in 1957.

1958 - The 1950s and 1960s was a time of growth and consolidation, with replacement and renewal of many elements in the water supply system.

1964 - Devilbend Reservoir was constructed to act as a service reservoir for the growing townships of the Mornington Peninsula.

1966 - Plans for the construction of the Cardinia and Thomson reservoirs were accepted by the Victorian Government. Construction of the Tarago Reservoir commenced in 1966 and was completed in 1969. This water storage was built by the SR&WSC to improve the capacity of the water supply system to meet the ever increasing demand for water in the district.

1967 - Melbourne struggled through a severe drought and water restrictions were imposed in the summer of 1967/68. As a result, plans for construction of Cardinia and Thomson reservoirs were advanced.

1974 - Construction of Cardinia Reservoir by the MMBW was completed. As part of the Victorian Government's policy that fluoride should be added to all public water supplies, construction began on local fluoridation plants.

1981 - Continued growth of demand on the Mornington Peninsula finally overtook the district's ability to meet its own water supply needs. Despite upgrading of existing facilities, water from the MMBW reservoir at Cardinia was first used to supplement local water supplies.

1984 - Construction of Thomson Reservoir was completed. The Thomson is the largest capacity reservoir ever built by the MMBW. The SR&WSC changed its name to the Rural Water Commission (RWC). The 'Don't be a Wally with Water' advertising campaign was launched aimed at changing people's attitudes to wasting water. Dual flush toilets became compulsory for all new installations.

1986 - On 1 July, six local sewerage authorities and the Mornington Peninsula water works district of the RWC commenced operations as the Mornington Peninsula and District Water Board (MPDWB).

1990 - Roofing of the last water storage tank on the Mornington Peninsula was completed.

1991 - The MMBW merged with the MPDWB, Dandenong Valley and Western Port Authority, Dandenong-Springvale Water Board, Pakenham Water Board, Lang Lang Water Board and Emerald Water Board to form Melbourne Water. Melbourne Water had three regions - Maribyrnong, Yarra and South East Region.

1992 - A water quality campaign titled 'Naturally Better' was launched by Melbourne Water.

1993 - Exporting of 'Australia Pure', a bottled water from Cardinia Reservoir commenced to several European countries and the U.S.A.

1994 - The Victorian Government announced that Melbourne Water was going to be divided into three retail water companies and a wholesale water company.

1995 - Yarra Valley Water commenced operations on 1 January as the largest of the three retail water companies.

1996 - Yarra Valley Water became the first Melbourne water retailer to launch a major web site.

1997 - The State government announced a major change in the way we will pay for our water - 'user pays'. This replaced a system based on property values.

1998 - New method of water pricing introduced.