When the region’s most prolific explorers, Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, discovered what we know today as Benalla, they originally referred to its river as ‘Swampy River’. The river was renamed ‘Broken River’ 16 years later when a temporary bridge was constructed over it, (this ‘broke’ the river), to allow overland access.
Following the devastating Faithfull Massacre in 1838, a police border post was established, and with that followed settlement. Pastoral overlanders took full advantage of the grazing and pastoral lands along the river, growing wheat, orchards and vines.
It’s believed that poor penmanship lead to the naming of the town when Edward Grimes, completing the application for the pastoral run, neglected to cross the ‘t’ in ‘Benalta’ and Benalla was born. It is thought the town’s name is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘water hole’.
Securing Benalla’s Water Supply
Before the Second World War, Benalla’s water supply was sourced from the Broken River. Water was pumped from deep holes in the bed of the river into two 40,000 gallon steel tanks at Riverview Road. This resulted in Benalla’s residents experiencing dirty water, as well as water shortages.
Benalla’s Water Tower
The T V Cowan Tower, named after the Trust Chairman of the time, Thomas Vaughan Cowan, was constructed in 1935. The concrete tower was 30 metres high and could hold 454 kilolitres of water to supply the town.
Construction of the Loombah Reservoir Secures Continuous Water Supply
The Benalla Waterworks Trust (established in 1882) wanted to provide Benalla with a continuous water supply. The Trust purchased just over 129 square kilometres of land in the Toombullup and Archeton area, as the site for a new reservoir. This was to become known as the Loombah Reservoir.
The Loombah Reservoir was constructed between 1940 to 1945, under the Chairmanship of William McCall Say. The reservoir had a holding capacity of 680 megalitres and enabled a continuous water supply to be secured for Benalla. Residents were invited to attend a mother’s day picnic by the reservoir to celebrate its completion, with around 600 people attending.
The Kelfeera Service Basin
The Kelfeera Service Basin was constructed next, in 1950. The basin, which is lined with concrete and has a capacity of 3.64 megalitres, was situated 11.5 kilometres from the water tower and acted as a break pressure tank.
A pipeline was then constructed from the Loombah Reservoir to the water tower. There was also a pipeline connecting the Kelfeera Basin to the water tower and a pipeline connecting the Kilfeera Basin to Loombah Reservoir.
The above diagram shows Benalla’s Storage Supply Arrangements as at 1988
Growing Demand for Water
While this system served Benalla well for several years a growing population, together with higher consumption and dry years, meant that the Benalla Waterworks Trust had to impose water restrictions. In an effort to alleviate the need for restrictions, a cast iron main was installed into the Kelfeera Service Basin during 1963 to 1964 to supplement the water supply.
F R Harrison Basin (South Street Basin)
By 1968 the pipeline from the Kelfeera Basin was no longer able to meet Benalla’s demand for water so it was decided to install a low level storage basin in South Street.
The South Street Basin was constructed in 1969-70 and was connected to the Kelfeera Basin by a 375mm steel cement lined pipe. The basin, with a capacity of 4.5 megalitres, filled overnight, and water was pumped directly into the water tower to augment the supply. Water inflow to the basin was controlled by a keystone butterfly valve and two pumps were controlled from the water tower by a non-float electrode system.
The Basin was officially named in October 1981, after the former Chairman of the Benalla Waterworks Trust, the late Commissioner Frank Harrison. Frank was Trust Chairman for a total of 17 years and a Trust Commissioner from 1943 to 1980.
Construction of the McCall Say Reservoir
It was still apparent to the Benalla Waterworks Trust that an additional reservoir was needed to meet ensure adequate water supply for Benalla. In 1971 works commenced on the construction of the McCall Say Reservoir. Construction was with the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, under the supervision of the Trust’s Engineer, Mr K D Borley.
The reservoir was completed in December 1973, with a capacity of 1,100 megalitres and at a cost of $750,000. The additional reservoir enabled the Benalla Waterworks Trust to successfully provide water to its population of 17,000.
The McCall Say Reservoir was named in honour of William McCall Say, which is very fitting in light of the significant role William played in securing a continuous water supply for Benalla. William was originally a pharmacist who lived and worked in Benalla. He went on to become a Commissioner of the Benalla Waterworks Trust from 1928 to 1966, leading the Trust as Chairman for a total of 23 years. William was also the Mayor of Benalla from 1951 to 1954.
The McCall Say Reservoir was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, on Monday 3 December 1979, with more than 300 people attending the opening.
It is worth noting the foresight of the Benalla Waterworks Trust in securing a continuous water supply through the construction of two major reservoirs. Benalla has one of the highest rainfall catchments in North East Water’s service area, with the reservoirs taking full advantage of the rainfall to provide a continuous supply of water to Benalla’s residents.
Lake Benalla was formed during 1974-1975, by damning the Broken River. The lake is usually full but is drained on occasion; including in winter or in the event of flooding.
North East Water
Ovens Region Water Authority
On 19 December 1994, the Ovens Region Water Authority assumed control of Benalla’s water supply and wastewater services. At the time, Benalla’s water was sourced from the Ryan’s Creek system and serviced a population of 9,000. The Benalla system was 100% compliant with World Health Organisation standards for bacteriological quality but was subject to issues with turbidity and colour following heavy rainfall events.
One of the Authority’s first steps was to introduce the pay-for-use principle as a two part tariff in Benalla on 1 October 1995. This lead to the new system being gradually implemented across other towns in the region and meant that customers paid only for the water they used.
The addition of Chlorine to the Water Supply
In 1979 the Victorian Government requested that all water boards adopt the World Health Organisation standards, which did not allow for any E.coli readings. This led to the introduction of chlorine to Benalla’s water supply.
A chlorine plant was constructed six kilometres from Benalla, and chlorine was added to the system at a rate of three parts per million.
The Brian Greed Water Treatment Plant
Benalla was one of the last towns in North East Water’s service area to receive a water treatment plant.
Benalla residents had been experiencing poor water quality for many years. Customers’ concerns regarding the quality of the water led to water quality improvements two years ahead of the original plan, with the opening of the Brian Greed Water Treatment Plant in 1999. Pleasingly, the plant was completed without the need to increase water charges for customers.
The plant was constructed next to the Kelfeera Service Basin, which enabled the energy saving features of the gravity fed system to be retained. The plant was of conventional design and the only pumping required was to move water from the treatment area to the clear water storage tank.
The Brian Greed Water Treatment Plant was officially opened on 5 February 1999, by the Honourable Patrick McNamara MLA, Deputy Premier of Victoria and Minister for Agriculture and Resources. The plant was opened under the chairmanship of Dr Brian Greed, with Jim Martin as the Chief Executive of North East Region Water Authority. Guests were invited to tour the new $4 million facility the day after the opening.
New ‘Piano Key’ Dam for Benalla
In early 2013 works commenced to upgrade the Loombah Dam Spillway. The $1.8 million project used ‘piano key’ technology to increase the capacity of the dam to safely pass flood flows. The project was the first of its kind in Victoria and means the spillway can increase the flow by four times that allowed by a conventional spillway. When the dam spills, the water cascades through the ‘piano key’ design.
The project included the excavation and removal of 12.500m3 of rock and earth fill, which is enough to fill five Olympic sized swimming pools. 2,000 tonnes of concrete was laid and 95,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement was used. The upgrade was completed in July 2013.
North East Water’s Miguel De Oliveira outside the new spillway
Benalla’s Water Supply Today
Benalla’s water is supplied by Ryan’s Creek, Whiskey Creek and other minor water courses, with raw water stored in the McCall Say Reservoir and Loombah Reservoir.
At the Benalla Water Treatment Plant, treatment includes coagulation and flocculation, dissolved air flotation, a granular media filter, pH correction, chlorination and fluoridation. The treated water is stored in a 10 megalitre roofed clear water storage, before being provided to the Benalla reticulation.
Interestingly, the reticulation system still includes pipework that dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. North East Water is currently replacing pipes that date from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Above is a photograph of a wooden pipe that was used in the Benalla reticulation system. Wooden pipes were made out of random lengths of timber that were made into staves (similar to those used in a wine barrel). The staves were bound together by galvanised steel wire, then coated heavily with bitumen. It would take a few days for the wooden pipes to swell or ‘proof’ once filled with water, after which the pipes became leak proof. It was not uncommon for wooden pipes to be left underground when new, modern pipes were installed.
Benalla’s Sewerage System
The Benalla Sewerage Authority was constituted in 1934, with the sewerage system constructed in the 1930s. We know the Benalla Sewerage Treatment Plant was in operation as far back as 1941. Thomas Putt managed what was known as the “sewerage farm” from 1941 to 1958. At this time there was the No 1 pumping station in operation at Shepparton Road and the No 2 pumping station in operation at Wedge Street.
The Ovens Region Water Authority operated a lagoon wastewater treatment plant at Benalla, with the plant treating domestic sewerage and trade waste. In its first year of operation, Ovens Water adopted a strategy for the wastewater discharge policy, in line with the Environment Protection Authority’s State Environment Protection Policy. The policy for Benalla led to the total reuse of Benalla’s wastewater on land.
The Benalla Wastewater Treatment Plant is located on Holdsworth Road, with the winter storage located on the Midland Highway. The treatment plant includes a fully mixed aerated lagoon, a maturation lagoon and a 320 megalitre winter storage. Irrigation land includes 62 hectares using centre-pivot irrigation and 82 hectares using flood irrigation.
The 320 megalitre winter storage was constructed by North East Water during the 2007-08 financial year at the Scholes Lane site. The storage reduces discharges from the site to the Broken River, with treated water discharged from the winter storage lagoon into a small wetland. The treated water then overflows from the wetland into the Broken River through an open channel.