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Function VF 123
Melbourne water supply and sewerage
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  • Use this Function for
    Urban water supply and sewerage for Melbourne

  • Do not use this Function for
    ;Water supply
    Drainage
    Sewerage
    Rivers
    Environment protection (regulation)
    Water and sewerage authorities

 
Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function
Background

Four main systems (Yan Yean, Maroondah, O'Shannassy, and Upper Yarra) supply Melbourne with water. The first of these (Yan Yean) was inaugurated in the 1850's. Responsibility for urban water supply and sewerage originally belonged with the City of Melbourne (1842 to date). In 1853 it was passed to the Commissioners of Sewers and Water Supply (1853-1860), thence to the Public Works Department, and finally to the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works (1891 to date) now known as Melbourne Water.

Historically, sewerage lagged behind water supply and the inability of the early water authorities to deal effectively with sewerage problems was a major factor in the establishment of the Board in 1891. Only in the second half of the twentieth century did the supply of sewerage to newly settled areas become nearly simultaneous with water supply. A major ancillary function has been the survey and mapping of urban and catchment areas under the Board's control. Diverse other responsibilities associated with water have included the management of catchment areas.

PERIOD OF FIRST SETTLEMENT TO 1860
: CITY OF MELBOURNE & COMMISSIONERS OF SEWERS & WATER SUPPLY

From its establishment in 1836, Melbourne drew its water supply direct from the Yarra River. As the population grew, this became hazardous to public health. The City of Melbourne established 1842, had formal responsibility for water supply and sewerage but lacked the necessary finance to construct its own water supply and sewers works.

In 1853 the colonial government established the Commissioners of Sewers & Water Supply to take control of water supply functions. Works were undertaken by the Sewerage and Water (Supply) Commission whose staff were part of the civil establishment of the colony, responsible to the Commissioner of Public Works and effectively part of the Public Works Department. The Commissioners built the Yan Yean water supply but "shied away from building the more difficult and costly sewers" (Tony Dingle & Carolyn Rasmussen, Vital Connections M.M.B.W., 1991, p.18). Initially these works were financed by an advance from the Colonial Treasurer to be repaid within a period of twenty five years. The Water Works Debenture Act 1855 authorised the Colonial Treasurer to issue debentures and the money raised was to be used to finance the work of the Commissioners.

PERIOD FROM 1860 TO 1891
: MELBOURNE SEWERAGE & WATER SUPPLY DEPARTMENT

On 12 December 1859, by Order of the Governor in Council and under the provisions of the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Amendment Act 1858, the Board of Commissioners of Sewerage and Water Supply was dissolved and its powers and property vested in the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744). Operationally, this responsibility was exercised by a branch of the Public Works Department known as the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Supply Department.

Water supply generated a revenue surplus, but successive colonial governments were unwilling to apply it to capital works for sewerage out of fear that country voters would resent increased spending on the metropolis. This led to urban dissatisfaction at what was seen as a hidden tax on city dwellers since surplus water revenues were applied to consolidated funds. Melbourne municipal government had been kept fragmented to prevent the formation of a metropolitan power and tax base which would rival the colonial government's own. There existed, in consequence, no single municipal authority capable of discharging water supply and sewerage functions throughout the metropolitan area.

The Town Clerk of Melbourne, E.G. Fitzgibbon, was prominent amongst those urging the formation of a single body representative of municipalities on the model of London's Metropolitan Board of Works as an alternative to government control. Other municipalities, many of which feared domination by Melbourne, could not agree, however, on the basis of representation. See David Dunstan, Governing the Metropolis ... (Melbourne, 1984).

As the sanitary crisis worsened, municipal conferences continued to disagree about what should be done until, in the late 1880s, a majority agreed to support the idea of a Board of Works for Melbourne. A Royal Commission into Sanitation recommended the establishment of a Board to provide a sewerage system and to take over control of the water supply and rivers and water courses in the metropolis. The Commission recommended establishment of a small Board of experts, independent of municipal control. The municipalities, however, demanded and won government agreement to the formation of a body representative of and largely controlled by municipal interests. This pattern of control lasted until 1978, when the government resumed a large measure of control leading, in time, to the corporatisation of the Board's functions and its break up into diverse businesses.

PERIOD FROM 1891 TO 1991
: MELBOURNE & METROPOLITAN BOARD OF WORKS (M.M.B.W.)

The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (M.M.B.W.) was established in 1891 under the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Act 1890 (No.1197) which received Royal Assent on 20 December 1890. The Board held its first meeting on 18 March 1891, but it was not formally constituted until its proclamation by Parliament on 1 July 1891.

Under s.60 of the M.M.B.W. Act of 1890, the new Board took over from the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744) responsibility for the ownership of all Melbourne metropolitan waterworks, sewers, drains, property, land, buildings, plant, river beds and banks except for those river beds and banks vested in the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners, Victorian Railways Commissioners (VA 2876) and the City of Melbourne, and for all related debts and contracts. Operational responsibility for Melbourne's water supply and sewerage was taken over from a branch of Public Works (VA 669), the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Supply Department.

The 1890 Act established a Board of thirty nine unpaid Commissioners, all drawn from Melbourne and Metropolitan Councils, and a full-time elected Chairman. Amending Acts in 1945 and 1953 increased the number of Commissioners to fifty four by 1978. Following a Board of Inquiry in 1977, the constitution of the M.M.B.W. was changed by the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (Reconstruction) Act 1978 (No.9165) and from 1 August 1978 the Board comprised a full-time appointed Chairman and six part-time members (four elected by Area Commissions - groupings of municipalities - and two Government appointees: Victorian Yearbook 1980, p.304). The Board also worked through a number of permanent Committees - Officers and Servants, Finance, Water Supply, Sewerage, Farm, as well as Planning and Highways 1956-1974 and Planning 1974-1985. The Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (Offices) Act 1982 instituted senior management reforms including a change in the status of Chairman from full to part-time and the appointment of a General Manager.

E.G. Fitzgibbon became the Board's first Chairman. In late 1890 an English sanitary engineer, James Mansergh, visited Melbourne to provide recommendations on the development of a sewerage system. His recommendations have guided the subsequent history of Melbourne's systems (M.M.B.W. 75th Anniversary and Annual Report, 1965-1966). Over time, the M.M.B.W. subsumed water authorities in surrounding areas which were progressively swallowed up in Melbourne's urban sprawl.

PERIOD FROM 1991 TO DATE
: MELBOURNE WATER

Melbourne Water is the successor in law and the body responsible for the functions carried out by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. It was formed by the merger of the M.M.B.W. with other local water authorities on 1 September 1991. Under the Melbourne Water Corporation Act 1992 (Act No.54, 1992), which received Royal Assent on 30 June 1992, the M.M.B.W. as then constituted continues in existence under the name Melbourne Water Corporation (known as Melbourne Water). The 1992 Act does not repeal the earlier Act. Melbourne Water has the functions conferred on it by the 1992 Act, the 1891 Act (as amended) and any other Act. The Melbourne Water Corporation Act was proclaimed on 30 June 1992.

Under section 51 of the Act, Melbourne Water took over responsibilities for water supply, sewerage and drainage functions formerly undertaken by:

Dandenong - Springvale Water Board;

Emerald District Water Board;

Dandenong Valley and Westernport Authority;

Mornington Peninsula and District Water Board;

Pakenham Water Board and the

Lang Lang Water Board

in the geographic areas formerly administered by these bodies.

Melbourne Water also had responsibility for development of metropolitan waterways. Major initiatives as at February 1993 included the construction of the North West Sewer, continued expansion of open space, improvement of waterways and implementation of customer services programs. Melbourne Water had three regional offices in metropolitan Melbourne to increase its capacity to respond quickly to the concerns of customers, local government and trades people. These three regional offices were reconstituted in 1994 as State-owned business enterprises under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992 trading as Yarra Valley Water Limited, City West Water Limited and South East Water Limited.

Melbourne Water remains responsible for the control of water supply headworks, major wastewater treatment and transfer infrastructure and drainage in metropolitan Melbourne.

During 1992, Melbourne Water Corporation was administered by a Commissioner. From 1993, the corporation was administered by a Board of Directors with a maximum of six members (Part 3 of the 1992 Act).

WATER SUPPLY AND SEWERAGE FUNCTIONS

The M.M.B.W. took over the Yan Yean Reservoir (constructed 1857) and subsequently constructed a number of major storage reservoirs - Toorourrong- Maroondah (1927), O'Shannassy (1928), Silvan (1931), Upper Yarra (1957), Cardinia and Winneke. These reservoirs are linked to a number of metropolitan service reservoirs. The Werribee Treatment Farm and pumping station at Spotswood formed part of the original sewerage scheme developed by the Board. The Brooklyn pumping station began operation in 1964 and in the same year construction of the South Eastern Scheme began (Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Annual Report 1965-1966).

MAIN DRAINS AND STORM WATER FUNCTIONS

The M.M.B.W.'s responsibility for rivers, creeks, drains, surface water, and flood control was made definite in 1923 by the Metropolitan Drainage and Rivers Act which vested responsibility in the Board for the drainage of surface water and rainwater flowing through more than one municipality. Later amendments extended the Board's responsibilities and the provisions of these Acts were consolidated in the 1958 Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Act. At first, efforts were concentrated on the management of rivers and water courses and on the building of main drains to control floods. From the late 1950s, the Board sought "non-structural" solutions by reserving flood plains and natural valleys from development. These reserves were often used for recreational purposes and, as the city developed, for freeway construction.

 
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Other InformationOther Information
 
Agencies with prime responsibility for this FunctionAgencies with prime responsibility for this Function
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Date of Responsibility Agency Title Agency Number
- 1891 Public Works Department (previously the Department of the Commissioner of Public Works) VA 669
1891 - cont Melbourne Water Corporation [known as Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to 1992] VA 1007
 
Other Agencies responsible for this FunctionOther Agencies responsible for this Function
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Groups related to this FunctionGroups related to this Function
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Date of Responsibility Group Title Group Number
- 1855 Colonial Secretary VRG 16
1855 - 1891 Public Works VRG 28
1891 - 1984 Water Supply VRG 36
1984 - 1990 Water Resources VRG 84
1990 - 1996 Conservation and Environment VRG 94
1996 - cont Environment and Conservation (previously Conservation and Land Management) VRG 123
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