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  • Author: Jennifer Cross
  • Date Posted: Oct 23, 2018
  • Category:
  • Address: Harrietville,VIC


With sweeping hills, idyllic land and access to the Ovens River, Harrietville is a beautiful town close to the Alpine National Park.

In the early 1800s Harrietville was a settlement that was reached by rough horse tracks, and the surrounding hilly country was thickly wooded. The discovery of gold in 1852 resulted in miners rushing to the area.  Within ten years, the number of miners had grown to 2,850, almost exclusively of Chinese descent. The Chinese Mining Village still exists largely undisturbed today, with mine workings, water races, building foundations and gardens.

Harrietville was never short of water, but given its location at the base of the Alpines, it was also prone to flooding. There were no less than four floods between 1905 and 1917, the last of which wiped out the bridge and left the town stranded. But with more gold to be found, the town didn’t stay stranded for long.

Harrietville’s Water Supply

Originally Harrietville’s urban supply was from individually owned groundwater bores.

In times of drought, such as the droughts of 1967-68 and 1982-83, the Ovens River flow was augmented by pumping from the Harrietville Dredge hole. The pump used was owned by the Tobacco Leaf Marketing Board.

In 1985 a public meeting was held in Harrietville to discuss a proposed reticulation water supply for the town, with more than 60 people attending.

Harrietville’s residents hospitalised due to water borne-diseases

The Health Surveyor urged the Council Shire of Bright to test the water supply, as a number of residents had been hospitalised due to water-borne diseases. The Council appointed the Bright District Water Board to carry out investigations into a suitable water supply. Consulting engineer, John Scroggie, was engaged to assist with the investigations. Tests undertaken proved conclusively that Harrietville’s water was not fit for consumption, with 70% of the underground supplies in Harrietville failing to meet World Health Organisation standards.

A New Water Supply for Harrietville

In March 1985, the Harrietville Urban District and Construction of Works for Supply of Water to the township of Harrietville was proclaimed, allowing for the construction, maintenance and continuance of water supply works for Harrietville.

The new scheme involved extending the Mt Smythe system – this saw water being diverted from Simmons Creek by gravity throughout the year, with supplementary pumping from the Ovens River during peak demand and periods of low flow in Simmons Creek.

Dredge hole at Simmons Creek, photographed in 2007

Works commenced on 3 March 1986 and were carried out by the Bright District Water Board’s Day Labour Gang. Harrietville’s initial water scheme cost $400,000, with one third of the costs provided by the Government. The works took two years to complete and involved the construction of a 0.4 megalitre storage tank. There were 2,900 metres of supply and reticulation pipelines, a pumping station and chlorination unit. The system considered Harrietville’s varying demand for water due to tourism, and had the capacity to serve a population of 200 residents, with a seasonal population of 900.

North East Water

Construction of the Harrietville Pump Station

On 11 September 1986, tenders were called for the construction of the Harrietville Pump Station. The 400 kilolitre concrete water storage tank was completed off Alpine Road in February 1987, as well as the pump station on the east arm of the Ovens River.

Harrietville’s Water Supply is Officially Opened

The Harrietville water supply was officially opened in the Spring of 1989. The chlorination of the water supply meant that Harrietville’s water was now able to meet with World Health Organisation standards.

The town was subject to water restrictions over the years. These lasted for 21 months from the 2007 ongoing drought. However, with an upgrade of the water treatment plant and a change of the primary source to the Ovens River in 2013, there have been no restrictions applied since.

Devastating Bushfire

Harrietville has been left devastated by bushfire on a number of occasions. In January 2013, a bushfire burned at Harrietville for 55 days. North East Water was faced with a doubling in water demand as residents fought to protect their homes. Unfortunately, this came at a time of extremely low flow in the Ovens River due to drought. In addition, North East Water was dealing with water quality challenges, with the unfiltered water supply being impacted by firefighting activity and several vehicle crossings occurring above the raw water offtake daily. North East Water was faced with the reality of not being able to guarantee the safety of the water, and was obliged to issue a Boil Water Notice to customers. Boil Water Notices were later lifted and replaced with full time water carting, with customers asked to conserve their water use for domestic purposes.

New Water Filtration Plant for Harrietville

In April 2013 North East Water completed a temporary water filtration plant for Harrietville. The fully automatic plant alleviated the need to cart water from Bright and enabled water to be drawn from the Ovens River and treated in Harrietville, before being supplied to residents.

The temporary water filtration plant during construction

The temporary water filtration plant being lowered to site

The Harrietville water treatment plant uses water taken from the Ovens River. Water treatment includes coagulation, flocculation, granular media filters and chlorination.

The treated water is pumped to the Alpine Road tank and then gravity fed to the Harrietville reticulation.

Harrietville’s Water Supply Today

Harrietville has its own water supply system and the town is subject to high seasonal peaks in demand when tourists visit the town.

Water is sourced from the east branch of the Ovens River and gravitates to the nearby water treatment plant. There was a previous supply from Simmons Creek to Harrietville, but this was taken offline and is no longer used.

Centralised Sewerage System Explored for the Town

Harrietville relies on septic tanks for its domestic wastewater. In 2014 North East Water looked into a centralised sewerage system for the town. After carrying out an ecological risk assessment it was determined that the septic tanks were not having a negative impact on the waterway. A sewerage system was also found not to be an affordable option for the town.

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