Timeline of our history

Over the past 130 years Melbourne Water has played a significant role in the development of our city. View key moments in our organisation’s history.​

Year What happened
1890  To provide water to Melbourne, a city of half a million people, water was diverted to Melbourne from the Watts River (near Healesville), via the Maroondah aqueduct
1891 Melbourne Water’s predecessor, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was formed to take responsibility for both water supply and the treatment of sewage.
Around the same time, approximately 157,000 hectares of forest in the Yarra Ranges was closed to the public to catch, store and filter rainwater. Melbourne is one of only five cities in the world with protected water catchments.

Construction began on Melbourne’s sewerage system under the leadership of the MMBW’s first engineer-in-chief, William Thwaites.

A treatment farm was built at Werribee and a pumping station was built at Spotswood (now the site of the Scienceworks Museum) to send the city's waste to Werribee.

1897 Western Treatment Plant (then known as Werribee Farm) began operations and the first Melbourne homes were connected to the sewerage system
1910 By 1910, there were 123,227 connections to Melbourne's water supply system and 105,993 connections to the sewerage system.

Despite periodic floods in many parts of the city, very little had been done to develop a drainage system for Melbourne. The Metropolitan Drainage and Rivers Act was established to define the city's drainage requirements.

Many wetlands were drained or filled in for development, and some creeks and rivers were altered for flood control.​

1927-1932 Maroondah Reservoir was completed in 1927, O'Shannassy Reservoir in 1928 and Silvan Reservoir in 1932, which saw Melbourne's water storages increase from 30,000 million litres to 104,500 million litres.​
1934 Extreme storms caused widespread flooding. Port Phillip Bay experienced record high tides and the Yarra River reached 12 meters above normal height. It became clear that the city needed a better drainage system.
1937 After delays caused by the Great Depression, low cost loans and the release of unemployment relief funds eventually helped to finance large-scale drainage works. New, stable and less flood-prone riverscapes began to take shape.​
1946 After delays caused by World War II construction began on the Upper Yarra Reservoir and a major scheme of pipelines and tunnels to bring more water to Melbourne.​
1950 Rapid population growth after World War II in Melbourne meant that new supplies of water were urgently required.​
1957 The Upper Yarra Reservoir was completed, tripling Melbourne's total water storage to nearly 300,000 million litres.
1960s Many parts of the water supply system were replaced or renewed.
1970 The introduction of the Environment Protection Act in 1970 ensured a major improvement in river health. Industrial waste had to be treated rather than being emptied directly into rivers and creeks. Many of Melbourne's outer suburbs and rural areas were connected to the sewerage system.
1971 To meet growing demand in the western suburbs, particularly during summer, a reservoir was completed at Greenvale.​

Construction of Cardinia Reservoir was completed.

As part of a new Victorian Government policy that fluoride should be added to all public water supplies, construction began on local fluoridation plants.
A five year independent study of Port Phillip Bay was completed, which concluded the bay was generally in good condition for a city the size of Melbourne, however there were heavily polluted 'hot spots' around the mouths of rivers, creeks and drains, particularly the Yarra River, the Patterson River and Mordialloc Creek.​

1974 Flash flooding in the Maribyrnong River, Moonee Ponds Creek and Merri Creek caused havoc.
In response to this disaster, the MMBW installed monitoring devices to measure flow levels and linked these to the Board's telemetry system to provide early flood warning.​
1975 Melbourne’s second major sewage treatment plant, the Eastern Treatment Plant in Bangholme opened. The 1100-hectare plant was built to relieve pressure on the Western Treatment Plant.
1977 The Drainage of Lands Act strengthened the MMBW's ability to prevent development of flood-prone land. This heralded a new approach to drainage in which engineers tried to mimic nature, by slowing down flood waters through retarding basins and flood plains, rather than trying to get rid of flood waters as fast as possible.​
1984  The Thomson Reservoir, the largest capacity reservoir ever built by the MMBW, was officially connected to Melbourne on 31 July, 1984.​

The MMBW merged with a number of smaller urban water authorities to form Melbourne Water. Melbourne Water and the CSIRO announced an $11 million study into the health of Port Phillip Bay.

The study was the first of its kind and took five years. It recommended reduction in nitrogen to the bay.

1993 In September Melbourne Water's telemetry (flood warning) system was put to the test and proved a great success – providing early warning of the heaviest flooding in the Maribyrnong River since 1974.​
1995 Melbourne Water starts operation as the wholesale water company, together with City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water as Melbourne’s retail water companies.
1999 Melbourne Water announced the $130 million Healthy Bay Initiative, consisting of major works and environmental improvements at the Western Treatment Plant and the construction of 10 wetlands in Melbourne's south-east growth corridor, designed to improve the health of Port Phillip Bay by reducing nitrogen flows from the Western Treatment Plant and stormwater run-off.​

The Victorian Government put in place a long-term plan for water, Our Water Our Future, which set out 110 initiatives for water conservation aimed at every sector of the community, seeking to provide water to sustain growth over the next 50 years.

Western Treatment Plant upgrade commenced. The main aim of the upgrade was to reduce nitrogen loads to the bay and make available a reliable supply of high quality recycled water for farms, parks, market gardens and other uses.


Melbourne's water storages received the lowest annual inflows on record.

Storages dropped from 58.4% in January to 38.9% in December.

A major upgrade of the Eastern Treatment Plant to improve the quality of the treated effluent it produces was announced.
The upgrade to tertiary treatment will reduce impact on marine environment at Boags Rocks, where treated water is discharged and make available more options to use treated water for non-drinking purposes (recycled water) and will be completed by end 2012.​


The next stage of the Victorian Government’s Our Water Our Future plan to secure Melbourne's water supply was announced.

Planning is underway to divert water from the Goulburn River to the Sugarloaf Reservoir, construct a seawater desalination plant in Wonthaggi, upgrade the Eastern Treatment Plant, and reconnect the Tarago Reservoir to Melbourne's water supply network.​

2009  Devastating bushfires in February damaged about 30% of Melbourne's water supply catchments to some degree. Most of this was in the O'Shannassy and Maroondah catchments. Melbourne's water storages fell to 25.5% in June, the lowest level since the Thomson Dam began filling in 1984.​

The major catchments received the highest annual rainfall since 1996, which resulted in the largest volume of streamflow into the reservoirs since 2000.
The strong result marked a significant turnaround in the 18 months since storages hit an all-time low of around 25% in June 2009.


The Eastern Treatment Plant tertiary upgrade was completed, making the plant one of the most sophisticated facilities of its kind.

2020 and beyond

As part of our commitment to reduce our future greenhouse gas impacts, Melbourne Water has pledged to halve our net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and examine a path to net zero emissions by 2030. This pledge supports the Victorian Government commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Meanwhile, community involvement in caring for our rivers and creeks, stronger environmental regulation, a more sustainable approach to urban development and water sensitive urban design, and major changes in rural areas (such as intensified farming practices) are all having a positive impact on water quality and river and creek health.

For more information about our projects and initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and generate more renewable energy, visit Our Path to Net Zero page.

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