|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
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).
Establishment of the Victorian Water Supply Department
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.
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.
Establishment of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission
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.
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.
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.
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).
The Rural Water Commission of Victoria
The Rural Water Commission of Victoria was a body corporate established under the Water (Central Management Restructuring) Act 1984 following a review of Victoria's non-metropolitan water industry by the Public Bodies Review Committee in 1980-1982. The objective of the review was "to design and recommend structures and procedures that will allow continued evolution toward more efficient, economic and effective allocation and utilization of water resources over the next several decades". It addressed in particular the geographical and functional fragmentation of the industry and the need to develop an integrated system of water management, combining "a single, consolidated system of water law and administration, on the one hand, with scope for self-management and local democratic participation on the other" (pp.3-4 Public Bodies Review Committee's Sixth Report to the Parliament, Future Structures for Water Management, Vol.1 Final Recommendations: Regional and Local Structures for Urban Sources 1981).
Date of Establishment
The Commission came into being on 1 July 1984. Under s.14 of the 1984 Act, the Commission inherited powers and responsibilities relating to rural water supply from the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723), including the latter's property and assets, debts and liabilities, legal and contractual responsibilities, and powers to commission waterworks, buy and sell land and levy charges.
As defined in the Act, the Commission's objectives were:
to manage the water resources and water related land resources entrusted to the Rural Water Commission in ways which are most beneficial to the people of Victoria;
to provide water services for irrigation, stock, domestic, industrial, commercial, recreational, environmental and other beneficial uses to the extent and to standards determined by the Government after consultation by the Rural Water Commission with the recipients of those services;
to provide its services efficiently and economically;
to provide a working environment which is safe and satisfying;
to operate and charge for its services in accordance with the economic and financial policies of the Government; and
to provide its services in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and in consultation with the appropriate authorities.
The functions of the Commission were specified by an Order-in-Council of 26 June 1984 (Victoria Government Gazette, No.69, 27 June 1984, p.2126):
to provide water and water-related services for irrigation, domestic and stock uses and for commercial, industrial, recreational, environmental and other beneficial uses in irrigation and other rural areas throughout Victoria
to design, construct, operate and maintain the necessary infrastructure to enable the delivery of services
to allocate water, and where necessary purchase water, and implement pricing and demand management policies
to undertake resource assessment and investigation pursuant to the effective and efficient operation and maintenance of rural water services
to undertake water services and related functions as may be assigned by legislation, directed by the Minister or delegated to the Commission by other public authorities
to develop public education programs to promote broad community awareness of the role of rural water services in Victoria's social and economic development.
Rural Water Corporation
The Water (Rural Water Corporation) Act 1992 abolished the Rural Water Commission and established the Rural Water Corporation and five Regional Management Boards to which powers and functions of the central office might be delegated and which might be incorporated.
In 1993 1994 the Rural Water Corporation was disaggregated. Central office functions were formed into companies, some of which were later sold and others transferred to a Regional Water Authority now known as Rural Water Authorities from 1 Jul 1994. Their functions are to provide water for irrigation, stock and domestic uses as well as some wholesale water supply. They are also to undertake drainage services, regulate groundwater extraction and structures in water courses.
These Rural Water Authorities are:
First Mildura Irrigation Trust VA 1429
Gippsland and Southern Rural Water Authority VA 3754
Goulburn-Murray Rural Water Authority VA 3757
Sunraysia Rural Water Authority VA 3755
Wimmera-Mallee Rural Water Authority VA 3749
By Sep 1995 the Rural Water Corporation was abolished. For details see Rural Water Corporation Restructuring the Rural Water Corporation (Rural Water Commission): Documentation of Events Dec 1995.