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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 3

I Background

II Early European Settlements

III Assessment Of Available Water Resources

IV Water Supplies For Goldmining Development

V Irrigation Development

VI Farm And Stock Water Supplies

VII Urban Water Supplies

VIII Wastewater Management And Treatment

IX Water Quality Management

X Limnological And Water Quality Research

XI New Techniques In Water Resource Planning And Management

XII Legislation

XIII Conclusion

XIV List Of Abbreviations

XV Acknowledgements

XVI Plantations-high Productivity Resources



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A study of technological development in the water industry would not be complete without some mention of the role of legislation.

In 1886, the Victorian Parliament passed a far-reaching Irrigation Act, sponsored by Alfred Deakin, the Minister of Water Supply and later Prime Minister of Australia. This Act vested in the Crown for all time the right to the use, flow and control of water in any stream, lake or swamp. It also provided that no riparian rights could be established in the future which might prevent the use of water for irrigation.

The Act further authorized the construction of national works by the State and enabled specified irrigation trusts to carry out water supply works with funds advanced by the State.

Earlier legislation had empowered public agencies to administer water for specific purposes such as mining, town water supplies and domestic and stock supplies in rural areas.

The passage of the Irrigation Act was followed by the construction of many water supply schemes, several of which failed because of insufficient water conservation, inexperienced irrigators and poor financial management. In 1905, a new Water Act, sponsored by George Swinburne, then Minister of Water Supply, placed the whole responsibility for water conservation and irrigation throughout Victoria under a new form of corporate body, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, headed by three full-time Commissioners -possibly the first statutory corporation of its type in comparable countries.

This professionally oriented organization was able under its charter to apply the most appropriate technology to the development of the State's rural water resources over the next 80 years. Similar legislation was developed in other States, with similar results.

The next major stage in water legislation was the passage of the River Murray Waters Act in 1915. This Act ratified the Agreement between the Governments of the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia for the construction of water supply works, the allocation of Murray waters between the three States and the appointment of the River Murray Commission to give effect to the Agreement.

The significance of the Agreement can be judged from the fact that the River Murray and its tributaries form the largest river system in Australia and one of the largest in the world. The Murray catchment extends over an area of 1,070,000 km2, or about one-seventh of the Australian continent. It includes five-sixths of NSW, one half of Victoria and portions of South Australia and Queensland.

The River Murray Commission arranges for the design and construction of works by State authorities and monitors the operation of the river system. Works under its control include Lake Dartmouth, a 4,000,000 ML capacity storage, Lake Hume 3,000,000 ML, Lake Victoria 680,000 ML, Lake Mulwala 117,500 ML, 15 weirs and five river barrages.

The Commissions's powers have been broadened in recent years to include consideration of water quality and environmental management. Again, the clear definition and allocation of responsibilities for water conservation, operation and use have enabled the most effective application of technology in the development of this very large water resource.

A final example of significant legislation is the Snowy Mountains Hydro -Electric Power Act of 1949. This Act provided for the establishment of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, which developed the dual purpose Snowy Mountains Scheme described in Chapter 6. This legislation was preceded by several years of consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the NSW and Victorian Governments as to the most appropriate mechanism for effective utilization of the water and energy potential of this large resource. Once again the formal establishment of a central, highly professional management organization allowed the application and adaptation of the best available technology in the discharge of the Authority's responsibilities.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Hume, Lake Vic./N.S.W.; River Murray Commission; Victoria. Government Departments

People in Bright Sparcs - Swinburne, George

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 187 - 188, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher