Our history

For more than 100 years, Barwon Water and its predecessor organisations have supplied Geelong and the Barwon region with arguably their most important services: a safe water supply and sewerage system.

Geelong's first permanent water source, the Lower Stony Creek reservoir, in 1873

Geelong's first permanent water source, the Lower Stony Creek reservoir, in 1873

Early settlers

In the 1830s, when Europeans first settled in the Geelong region, the Barwon River was identified as a possible source of drinking water. Unfortunately, its quality was less than satisfactory. The river was influenced by tidal activity and was brackish and muddy upstream as far as Buckley Falls. The situation improved when a breakwater was built by convict labour in 1841. Moreover, as a result of the growing population, the Barwon River and Corio Bay became polluted by industrial and domestic sewage by the 1850s.


The first water

Geelong's first reticulated water supply went online on 11 September 1873, from Stony Creek Reservoir in the Brisbane Ranges. The first connected property was the Geenlong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum, now the site of the Geelong Hospital. 

In 1908, the Victorian Government handed over its water supply role to the Geelong Municipal Waterworks Trust for £265,000. Two years later, the Trust's role expanded to include the collection and disposal of sewage and the Geelong Waterworks and Sewerage Trust was formed.

On November 10, 1909, the Colac Waterworks Trust was constituted and immediately set about designing and implementing the Olangolah water supply scheme to serve Colac. The scheme was completed in July, 1911, at a cost of £43,000.

Meanwhile, the Geelong system continued to expand to meet the needs of a growing population. In 1916 the first home was connected to the sewerage system, and the system commenced operation in 1917. In 1923, the Colac Sewerage Authority was established and Colac became the first Victorian country town to be sewered in 1927.

Geelong's water resources were greatly enhanced in 1929 when the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission began supplying the Bellarine Peninsula with water from the Barwon River. The system incorporated an earthen channel from the Barwon River near Forrest to a new storage reservoir at Wurdee Boluc and an earthen channel to Waurn Ponds.


Growth and development 

With continued industrial and residential growth during the 1950s, the Victorian Government handed control of the Barwon headworks to the Trust. Wurdee Boluc Reservoir was enlarged in 1956 and a new reservoir, West Barwon, was built near Forrest in 1964. In the same year, the first trade waste agreements were signed that meant factories were no longer allowed to discharge waste into the Barwon River. In 1968, machines were built at Black Rock to break up sewage before discharge to sea.

In the 1960s the Colac water system expanded north to supply Beeac and Cressy. In 1973, West Gellibrand Reservoir (on the Gellibrand River) and Lal Lal Reservoir (on the West Moorabool River) were opened to serve the expanding Colac and Geelong regions respectively.

Construction of groundwater bores at Barwon Downs, south-west of Colac, began in the 1980s. Small sewage treatment plants were commissioned in Anglesea, Winchelsea and Portarlington. The shoreline outfall at Black Rock was replaced by a screening plant and ocean outfall in 1989. In the same year the Colac District Water Board merged with the Otway Coast Water Board, and later became the Otway Region Water Authority.

The Wurdee Boluc water treatment plant was commissioned in 1990 and the reservoir enlarged to 40,000 million litres. In the 1990s sewage treatment plants were built in Aireys Inlet, Bannockburn, Lorne and Apollo Bay. The Barwon Region Water Authority (Barwon Water) was constituted on 1 February 1994. The Black Rock sewage treatment plant was significantly upgraded in 1996 to include biological treatment of sewage, and the first agreement to provide recycled water (to a flower farm) was signed in 1997. Barwon Water and the Otway Region Water Authority merged in July, 1997. In 2001, the Moorabool water treatment plant was commissioned to treat water from the Moorabool system.


Building for the future

In the 2000s, Barwon Water embarked on the most ambitious capital works program in its history, doubling the value of its asset base to more than $2 billion. Flagship infrastructure projects included the Anglsea Borefield, Northern Water Plant, Melbourne to Geelong Pipeline and Biosolids Drying Facility. A 5-year private sector alliance delivered 129 small and medium-sized water, sewerage and recycled water projcets with a combined value of $375 million.


Quality and efficiency

With a raft of infrastructure projects delivered, Geelong water supplies secured for the future, and an awareness of cost-of-living pressures, Barwon Water shifted its focus to minimising customer prices and continuing the efficient delivery of quality services.

In 2013, Barwon Water partnered with the private sector to outsource its civil maintenance, electrical and mechanical maintenance, land management and stores services.

In 2014, with the release of its Corporate Plan, Barwon Water continuied its commitment to commercial consolidation, sustainable efficiencies and innovation. The Plan outlined operation and capital savings of more than $65 million over five years, with no impact on service delivery. Savings are being returned to customers through lower bills.



Living by Water: a history of Barwon Water and its predecessors

For a complete account of our history, refer to Living By Water: a history of Barwon Water and its predecessors, by historian Leigh Edmonds.

This book, published in 2008 to celebrate our centenary year, is available from our customer services centres or can be purchased online.

A full copy of the book (in PDF format) is available below.

 Living by Water: order form PDF 311 KB

 Living by Water: a history of Barwon Water and it's predecessors PDF 6.4 MB (large file)