|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
Early attempts to provide water supplies for rural Victoria were made as a result of a mixture of local initiatives through the establishment of Water Trusts from the 1850's and Government action on the goldfields. The earliest reticulated supplies were developed in Bendigo (1858-1859), Ballarat (1860-1862) and Geelong (late 1860's).
From 1861 reservoirs were constructed on the goldfields by the Public Works Department (VA 669) for the Board of Land and Works (VA 744); some were maintained by the Government, others leased to Water Trusts. The need for legislative control led to the passage of the Waterworks Act in 1865 which gave the Board of Land and Works power to complete and construct water works, to purchase land, levy charges, lease or sell works and provide loans to local Water Trusts (under the Public Loans Act 1865) to complete and construct water works. The actual administration of these statutory provisions came to be undertaken by the Victorian Water Supply Department (VWSD).
The Victorian Water Supply Department was set up as a sub-department within the Department of Mines (VA 2719) in 1865 and its first Chief Engineer (H.O. Christopherson) appointed on 1 November (Civil Establishment of Victoria 1866, 1867). By 1867 all Public Works responsibilities for water reservoirs and water supplies to the goldfields had been taken on by the VWSD (Treasurer's Statements of Receipts and Expenditure for 1866 and 1867). The Chief Engineer's Report to 31 December 1867 to the Minister for Mines and Vice-President of the Board of Lands and Works reported on surveys undertaken of proposed works by Water Trusts and their works-in-progress, land purchases, administration of loans and the works under the direct control of the VWSD - Coliban (Sandhurst-Castlemaine), Geelong and Echuca (Parliamentary Papers 1868). Control and management of the Coliban and Geelong Schemes continued until they were taken over by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723) in 1905-1906.
Water Conservation Acts 1881-1886
The need for better central regulation and co-ordination of rural water supplies led to an inquiry by a Water Conservancy Board and the subsequent passage of the first attempt at comprehensive legislation, the Water Conservation Act 1881 (subsequently amended between 1883 and 1886 and consolidated 1887). Its provisions, administered by the VWSD, included the constitution of and appointment of Commissioners for local Waterworks Trusts and Districts, including Urban Districts, their powers and duties, loans and rating, supply and sale of water.
Royal Commission on Water Supply 1884-1885
Continuing dissatisfaction with the situation and the growing requirements of agriculture resulted in the setting up on 23 December 1884 of a Royal Commission on Water Supply with Alfred Deakin as President and Stuart Murray as Secretary. Its recommendations resulted in the Irrigation Act 1886 and the restructuring of the VWSD (see Further Progress Report to Parliament 31 August 1885).
Irrigation Act 1886, Water Act 1890
The Irrigation Act 1886 vested water rights in surface water in the Crown, made the Minister responsible for promoting efficient storage and use of water resources for mining, manufacturing and industrial use, domestic and stock supply and irrigation, established "national works" and the responsibilities of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744), provided for irrigation and Rural Water Supply Districts and set down requirements for their constitution by the Governor-in-Council (specified boundaries, proposed works, water entitlement, water sources, rates, costs, loans, number of Commissioners), and provided for the issue of pumping leases and licences to construct water works. The VWSD administered the provisions of the Irrigation Act 1886 (subsequently consolidated with the Water Conservation Acts in the Water Act 1890) and took on operational responsibility for the statutory or lease responsibilities given to the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744) by the Act. These related to the administration of loans to water and irrigation trusts, surveys of water storage resources and improvement planning, surveying of rivers and streams, boring and exploration for underground water and construction and management of "national works" (ss.124-133 Irrigation Act 1886, ss. 283-291 Water Act 1890). "National works" were works declared by Act of Parliament to be of state wide significance. They were constructed and managed under the direct control of the State. The Chief-Engineer of VWSD was responsible for reporting to the Minister on the financial viability of proposed "national works" (s. 126 Irrigation Act 1886, s. 293 Water Act 1890).
Separation from Department of Mines (VA 2719) 1889
Following the Royal Commission's recommendations on its restructuring, the VWSD became an independent agency in late 1889 (see Victoria Government Gazette 13 December 1889, p.4368 for abolition of position of Secretary of Mines and Water Supply on 12 December 1889). Stuart Murray (Secretary to the Royal Commission) had become its Chief Engineer in September 1886 (Victoria Government Gazette 10 September 1886 p. 2612) replacing William Heron Steel (also Inspector-General of Public Works). In January 1890 the Department acquired its own Secretary, H W Meakin (Civil Establishment Return for 31 December 1890 gives 17 January as the appointment date). At this stage the Department was organised into four Branches - Engineering, Correspondence, Accounts and Country (management of Coliban and Geelong Schemes).
Reamalgamation with Department of Mines 1895
In 1895 the VWSD was amalgamated with the Department of Mines (VA 2719), forming the Department of Mines and Water Supply (Victoria Government Gazette 31 May 1895 p. 1946 as of 22 May 1895). The VWSD continued to function much as before under Chief Engineer Stuart Murray as a sub-department of the Department of Mines and Water Supply (VA 2720), although its main accounting and audit responsibilities were undertaken by the latter's Accounts Branch.
Abolition of the VWSD 1906-1910
Gradually there was a recognition that there was a need for a single more powerful and independent co-ordinating authority to manage the State's water resources. Inadequate water conservation, fragmented control, insufficient charges and irregular revenue had led to the failure of many Trusts. The Water Act of 1905 therefore vested overall responsibility for conservation and distribution of Victoria's rural water supplies for irrigation, industrial and
urban purposes with the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723). The VWSD's responsibilities relating to Water and Irrigation Trusts, water rights and those operations it carried out for the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744) under ss. 283-291 of the 1890 Act passed to the Commission. A few legislative provisions were still the responsibility of the Department's Chief-Engineer (eg. reporting on viability of proposed "national works" under s.293 1890 Act), but these were removed by the Water Act 1909 which formally merged the Department and its remaining staff into the Commission (proclaimed 4 January 1910 Victoria Government Gazette 19 January 1910, p 274). Stuart Murray, while still retaining the position of Chief-Engineer, became one of the first three Commissioners of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. In 1908 he was replaced as Chief-Engineer by Elwood Mead (the first Chairman of the Commission). The years 1906 to 1909 saw a gradual scaling down of the activities of the VWSD and transfer of its staff to the new Commission.
Location of Records
See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.23.0.