Agency VA 723
State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC)
About this Agency Records Related Functions Related Agencies
Date Range: 1906 - 1984
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency

The State Rivers and Water Supply Commission was established by the Water Act 1905 and the first three Commissioners were appointed in May 1906: Stuart Murray, George Janson and William Cattanach (Victoria Government Gazette, 16 May 1906).


The establishment of the Commission stemmed from a recognition that there was a need for a single, powerful and independent authority to coordinate and manage the State's rural water resources. The Water Act 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. The Victorian Water Supply Department's responsibilities relating to water and irrigation trusts, water rights and those operations it carried out for the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) under s.283-291 of the 1890 Act passed to the Commission. A few legislative provisions remained the responsibility of the Department's Chief Engineer (eg. reporting on viability of the proposed "national works" under s.293 of the 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 - Gazette 19 January 1910, p.274). Stuart Murray, while still retaining the position of Chief Engineer of the Department, became the first Chairman of the Commission. In 1903 he was replaced as Chief Engineer and Chairman by Elwood Mead. The years 1906 - 1909 saw a gradual scaling down of the activities of the Victorian Water Supply Department (VA 2787) and transfer of its staff to the new Commission.

Responsibilities and Functions

The main responsibilities of the Commission were:

provision of advice about rural water resources and management to the Minister, landowners, and client groups
surveying, gauging and reporting on surface water resources
investigation, construction and management of water supply and drainage schemes for domestic, stock, industry and irrigation purposes
oversight of local water, irrigation, sewerage, drainage and river improvement authorities
flood plain management, flood protection and reclamation schemes
river improvements, stream management and conservation, salinity and water quality control
utilisation and conservation of underground water resources
licensing of diversion of surface and underground waters.

The Commission also acted as the delegated authority of the Environment Protection Authority from 1973 with respect to water pollution in rural areas, and had certain responsibilities relating to soil conservation. In the periods of closer settlement following the First and Second World Wars, the Commission had responsibilities for a number of settlements in the irrigation areas. From 1969, under the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (Special Projects) Act, it was empowered to provide consulting services outside Victoria.

History of Functions: 1905 and 1909 Water Acts

The 1905 Act vested in the Commission statutory responsibility for:

surveys of available water resources and planning for their storage and utilisation
oversight of local water, sewerage and irrigation authorities, including administration of loans
gauging of rivers and streams and reporting on results
boring and exploration for underground water
ownership and management of proclaimed "national works" (water works of State-wide significance).

The Board of Land and Works (VA 744) continued to have statutory responsibility for construction of "national works", although the actual construction was managed by the Commission. Statutory responsibility for construction was transferred to the Commission by the Water Act 1909.

Oversight of Local Authorities

The 1905 Act reconstituted local water, sewerage and irrigation authorities, bringing them under the Commission's general jurisdiction. Rural water supply, sewerage and irrigation schemes continued to be directly managed by a variety of local authorities, including municipalities; mostly constituted under the Water Act, but some with their own legislation. From 1958 sewerage authorities were constituted under the Sewerage Districts Act. Increasingly, the Commission took responsibility for construction of waterworks, while local authorities were responsible for reticulation, management and distribution. In January 1984, under the Water and Sewerage Authorities (Restructuring) Act and Water (Amendment) Act 1983, responsibility for the oversight of local authorities passed to the Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply (VA 641), and the Local Authorities Division of the Commission was transferred to the Ministry.

Water Works and Supply Schemes

In addition to its responsibilities for construction of water works and oversight of local authorities, the Commission itself directly managed water supply schemes in a growing number of rural areas. These schemes included a number of large urban supplies. Originally the Commission took over responsibility for the Coliban (Bendigo - Castlemaine) and Geelong schemes from the Victorian Water Supply Department (VA 2787). It later took on other urban schemes, including the Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine and Otways systems. From 1915 the Commission became the authority for building and maintaining water works in Victoria under the River Murray Waters Agreement.

River Improvement Schemes

Following a Parliamentary Public Works Committee of Inquiry in 1945, the Commission took on additional responsibilities for river management and improvement together with the oversight of local River Improvement Trusts (Victorian Yearbook 1984, p.299).


The Groundwater Act 1969 vested in the Commission responsibility for the utilisation and conservation of groundwater. The Act was jointly administered with the Department of Minerals and Energy (VA 611) which was responsible for exploration and investigation.

Soil Conservation

The Minister for Water Supply and the Commission were early sponsors of soil conservation in Victoria because of their growing concern with sand-drifts in the Wimmera-Mallee. A bye-law, incorporated in amendments to the Water Act 1942, enabled the Commission to control cultivation of land subject to drift near water channels. The Minister was a sponsor of the Soil Conservation Act 1940 which established the Soil Conservation Board. The Soil Conservation and Land Utilisation Act 1947 established the Land Utilisation Council to advise on land use in catchment areas and the Council included Commission representation (Victorian Yearbook 1984 p.288-289).

Closer Settlement

The Closer Settlement Act 1912 (No.2438) transferred the control and administration of land suitable for settlement only under irrigation conditions or situated within an Irrigation and Water Supply District to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission from the Closer Settlement Board (VA 2266). The Commission thus acquired the power to purchase, dispose and administer lands in accordance with the general provisions of the Closer Settlement Acts, subject to the decision of the Minister responsible for the Acts.

Under the provision of s.2 of the Discharged Soldier's Settlement Act 1917 (No.2916) the Commission was granted the control and administration of the settlement of returned servicemen and women on irrigable land.

The provisions of the Empire Settlement Act 1922 encouraged approved British immigrants to migrate to Australia for the purpose of land settlement or to augment the labour force. Subject to the Commonwealth and State Agreement of 1922, the Commission had responsibility for the control and administration of the settlement of assisted British immigrants on irrigable land.

In 1932 under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act (No.4091) the newly appointed Closer Settlement Commission (VA 2268) assumed the powers and obligations of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in respect of the settlement and occupation of irrigable lands.

In the post second World War period, closer settlement in irrigation areas was managed jointly by the Commission and the Soldier Settlement Commission (VA 2270) (subsequently, Rural Finance and Settlement Commission (VA 2273), then Rural Finance Commission). The areas involved were the Murray Valley, Robinvale, Nambroh-Denison and Macalister (Victorian Yearbook, 1984 p.287-288). The work was undertaken by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission on behalf of the Soldier Settlement Commission under the provisions of the Soldier Settlement Act 1946, s.11(2).

Organisational Structure

Initially the Commission operated outside the public service. However, in 1939 following a Royal Commission in 1936, officers of the Commission were brought into the public service under the Public Service (Transfer of Officers) Act 1937. From 1939 the Commission was deemed to be the "Department of Water Supply" for the purposes of the Public Service Act, and its Chairman the permanent head of the Department. (It should be noted that the "Department of Water Supply" in all other respects did not exist.) This situation continued, even following the Water Resources Act 1975 which established a Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply (VA 641). Thereafter until 1983 the Chairman was deemed to be the permanent head of the Ministry for the purposes of the Public Service Act.

Role in Water Resources Council

The Council, established by the Water Resources Act 1975, advised the Minister on water resources, drainage and sewerage matters. All three State Rivers and Water Supply Commissioners were members of the Council.

Abolition of Commission

The Commission was abolished by the Water (Central Management Restructuring) Act 1984 (s.14), its major powers, responsibilities and assets passing to the Rural Water Commission (VA 2338) on 1 July 1985. Its responsibilities for rural water resource policy were taken on by the new department of Water Resources (VA 2354). The Commissioners held their last meeting on 25 June 1984 (Victoria Government Gazette No.67, 20 June 1984, p.2005; Order-in-Council of 19 June amending Schedule Two of the Public Service Act 1984). Prior to its abolition, responsibility for oversight of local water and sewerage authorities had passed to the Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply (VA 641) on 1 January 1984 under the Water and Sewerage Authorities (Restructuring) Act 1983.

The restructuring followed a review by the Public Bodies Review Committee of Victoria's non-metropolitan water industry (see 2 April 1980 reference from Parliament in Victoria Government Gazette No. 42, 20 May 1981, p.1594, and the Committee's Reports to Parliament, Nos.1-8, in particular Eighth Report, Future Structures for Water Management, Vol 3, Final Report: The Central and Regional Management of the Water Industry).

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Record series created by this AgencyRecord series created by this Agency
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1875 - ? 1971 Miscellaneous Records VPRS 10039 North Melbourne Open
? 1881 - ? 1962 Local Contracts - Abstracts of Tenders VPRS 368 North Melbourne Open
? 1889 - ? 1915 Engineer's Outward Letter Books VPRS 11059 North Melbourne Open
? 1906 - ? 1995 Reports (Library Set) VPRS 11187 North Melbourne Open
? 1906 - 1958 Classified Registration Cards for General Correspondence VPRS 6009 North Melbourne Open
? 1906 - By 1995 Historical Collection (Library Series) VPRS 11186 North Melbourne Open
? 1916 - 1987 Keyword Index Cards to General Correspondence Files VPRS 9468 North Melbourne Open
? 1926 - 1994 Index Cards to Legal Opinions and Precedents VPRS 9618 North Melbourne Closed
? 1928 - By 1953 Index to Special Correspondence VPRS 9605 North Melbourne Open
? 1928 - Circa 1954 Register of File Numbers for Alphabetically Re-arranged Inactive Portion of pre 1928 General Correpondence Files (Refer to Microfiche Copy, VPRS 14628) VPRS 9604 North Melbourne Closed
? 1930 - ? 1981 Records of Chief Engineer, Eildon Project VPRS 10038 North Melbourne Open
? 1939 - 1992 Circulars VPRS 9483 North Melbourne Open
? 1940 - ? 1984 Attachment Books (Microform Copy of VPRS 6012) VPRS 6010 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1940 - 1992 Index to Circulars VPRS 9481 North Melbourne Open
? 1952 - ? 1980 Field Books F VPRS 16985 North Melbourne Open
? 1952 - Circa 1954 General Correspondence Files (Alphabetically Re-arranged Inactive Portion of VPRS 6008 - pre 1928 files), Single Number System VPRS 3844 North Melbourne Open
? 1954 - By 1958 List of Classified Indexable Headings (Refer to Microfiche Copy, VPRS 14727) VPRS 9471 North Melbourne Open
? 1957 - Pumping Plant Plans VPRS 6636 North Melbourne Open
? 1970 - ? 1979 Base Plans (Aperture Cards) VPRS 16624 North Melbourne Open
? 1971 - By 1987 File Location and Top-Number Cards for Portion of pre 1959 General Correspondence Files, Annual Single Number System (Variable Top Number) VPRS 14702 North Melbourne Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1906 - 1984 Rural water supply VF 122
1906 - cont Rural water supply (transferred 1906-1910) VF 474
1913 - 1933 Settlement schemes (irrigable land) VF 34
Functions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibility
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1906 - 1908 Wimmera United Waterworks Trust VA 4036
1906 - 1908 Western Wimmera Waterworks Trust VA 4038
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1906 - 1984 Water Supply VRG 36