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Yan Yean Reservoir

Celebrating 170 years of quality drinking water in Melbourne

Melbourne Water supplies some of the best drinking water in the world and it all started 170 years ago when work on Australia’s very first reservoir began – in Yan Yean, north of Melbourne.  

The turning of Yan Yean Reservoir’s first sod took place on 20 December 1853; prior to this Melburnians drew their drinking water supply from the Yarra River - a waterway that was also colloquially named ‘Yarra Soup’ thanks to it also being the city’s main drain. 

Designed to provide Melbourne with a safe, secure and great tasting water supply, the Yan Yean Reservoir was not only the largest man-made lake in the world when it was completed, but it was the first of a series of reservoirs that would eventually service a city of over 5.3 million people. 

170 years on Melbourne Water now has 10 water storage reservoirs that collectively hold over 1,812 billion litres of water, with the Thomson Reservoir (1,068 billion litres) being the largest. In support, there are 38 smaller service reservoirs spread across Melbourne. Fed by the larger reservoirs, these store one to two days of water to meet local demand. 

Yan Yean Reservoir Historical

“The reason Melbourne’s water tastes so good comes down to our protected catchments,” Paul Balassone, Melbourne Water Principal Heritage Advisor said. 

“Our forests act as a natural filter, slowly releasing rainwater into our rivers that flow into our reservoirs. They filter the water naturally so we only need to perfect the water at our water treatment plants. Very little treatment is needed to be honest. 

“Following this we continually test our water quality to ensure Melburnians are only getting the finest, best tasting water possible.”  

While Melbourne’s water supply comes primarily from its reservoirs, many are interconnected enabling Melbourne Water to transfer water between them. It can move water to parts of Melbourne that are experiencing higher needs, or safeguard water supply in the event of an emergency, like bushfires.  

Further to this, since it was commissioned in 2012 Melbourne Water also integrates water from the Victorian Desalination Project to help bolster supply. Since 2016-17, over 450 billion litres of desalinated water have flowed into our reservoirs, helping maintain our levels and preventing Melbourne from forced water restrictions.  

The desalination plant is an example of recent developments to maintain water supply for a city that is expected to double in population by 2050.  

As Melbourne’s current water use exceeds natural flows into our reservoirs by 50-70 billion litres annually, Melbourne Water is not sitting still. It’s working hard to continually update its infrastructure. 

One of its current projects is the development of a new pipeline between the Yan Yean Water Treatment Plant and Bald Hill, in Kalkallo. This will help meet the growing water needs in the northern and western suburbs – an area that continues to grow.  

Happy birthday Yan Yean Reservoir, the birthplace of Melbourne’s water supply system. 

More information on: 
Melbourne Water’s reservoirs 
Melbourne’s water supply system 
The Victorian Desalination Plant  


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