The Traditional Owners of the town that is now known as Beechworth were the Min-jan-buttu people.
It is thought that Hume and Hovell entered the hills south-east of Stanley in 1824. In May 1839, former naval officer Lieutenant David Reid was exploring Eldorado Creek when he came across the hills in the present town of Beechworth. It is said that Lieutenant Reid was so impressed by the beauty of what he saw on that glorious day in May that he named the area ‘May Day Hills’. Lieutenant Reid built a woolshed which was to become known as the Woolshed goldfields.
Beechworth’s history was shaped by the discovery of gold in 1852. The discovery brought thousands of settlers to the area, including noteworthy politicians and businessmen.
On 1 July 1853 the ‘May Day Hills’ were surveyed by a Mr Smyth and Beechworth was declared a town. Beechworth was declared a district in 1856 and elections were held for the first Council. A land grant was received from the Government for what is now the location of the Shire Hall and Visitor Centre. The first Post Office, which was essentially a rough slab hut, was opened at Spring Creek diggings in 1853.
By 1857 the population of the town and immediate goldfields had reached 16,000 (for comparrison, the current population of Beechworth is 2,789). A new gaol was built in 1859 to house the many criminals that had been working on the goldfields and a powder magazine was erected in 1860 for the storage of gunpowder.
Beechworth went on to be proclaimed a municipality in 1863 and in 1865 the layout of roads and footpaths was formalised. A mental asylum was built in 1867, and its original water supply consisted of seven underground cisterns, each 23 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter. Each cistern could hold 12,000 gallons of water and they were filled with rainwater collected from roofs and fed into the cisterns through hollow veranda posts.
Today the history of Beechworth is evident in the streets that were named after former Councillors and other notable figures. The achievements of pioneers of the past still stand today in Lake Kerferd and Lake Sambell, and sites filled with gold mining history including the powder magazine and Woolshed Falls are enjoyed by many today.
Beechworth’s Water Supply
When settlers flocked to the township of Beechworth in search of gold, the township was without an adequate water supply.
After its formation on 20 September 1856, the town’s first Council was tasked with achieving a secure water supply for the town.
Beechworth’s water scheme took 19 years to come to fruition. The years between the proposal of a water scheme in 1855 to the eventual official supply of water in 1874 were filled with setbacks and disputes, all at a substantial cost to the fledgling Council.
The initial proposed water scheme consisted of bringing water from Little or Ovens Rivers with a canal to be cut from the Ovens River, via Stanley and through to Beechworth. Although the Ovens Diggings Water Co. was formed specifically to undertake this work, the scheme did not eventuate.
In 1857 Council sank and installed a well and horse driven pump at the bottom of Short Street. In November 1858 the Beechworth Municipal Council appointed a special water committee to plan a water supply for the township.
Next came what was later known as ‘Brown’s Folly’ (named after Councillor Frederick Brown). An iron tank was set up on the highest point of Church Street, near the Ford Street intersection, to store water that was pumped from the well. The tank was 20 feet by 25 feet by 6 feet and held 22,500 gallons of water. The tank and well were connected by pipes, with pipes also connecting the tank to the centre of town. However, the size and positioning of the tank impacted on the room available for vehicles to pass and this, together with negative public opinion about the aesthetics of the tank, resulted in the tank’s removal within two years.
In 1859, following the failure of the water scheme, the Council accepted a recommendation from Surveyor Henry Grimes to build a dam at Hurdle Flat Swamp. However, this was fraught with issues. The area contained a number of private springs and was under the control of the Mining Board, with a number of leases already sold. After making the area into a reserve, Council’s application was turned down.
The Beechworth Water Rights Bill
Council’s next attempt was to have a private Bill passed through Parliament to assist with the construction of a dam. This took two years and cost the Council £1,256, including legal expenses, and was known as the “Beechworth Water Rights Bill”. The Bill provided Council with the water rights – the option to borrow money to finance the scheme and the right to sell any excess water. However, there was a significant obstacle in the requirement for water rights to be settled by arbitration; this was to cost the Council a huge amount of money.
There was an agreement that the Government would grant Council £5,000 on the basis that Council would raise a similar amount. Council was so confident they could raise the funds by selling water to the goldfields that they called for tenders for the construction of the dam.
Lake Kerferd Dam
The Honourable George Briscoe Kerferd, who moved to Beechworth as a brewer and wine and spirit merchant, played a significant role in securing the water supply for Beechworth. He was a great advocate for the construction of the dam and in this way facilitated Beechworth’s water storage. The Council named the dam ‘Lake Kerferd’ in his honour.
The contract for the construction of the dam was let to a Mr James Parker for £7,281 in December 1861. Work began in early 1862 and was completed by the end of that year.
A key objective of the dam was to retain the waters of the Hurdle Creek Swamp for gold mining activities. Initial plans for the dam were for a dam height of 35 feet, providing a storage capacity of 46 acres. The plans also included that the bank could be raised by 12 feet when more funds became available.
When completed at the end of 1862, the first filling of the reservoir produced 20 acres of water, 17.5 feet deep, costing £12,000 to date. There were additional costs of £2,000 due to a dispute with a contractor.
Following construction of the dam, the Council was on the verge of being bankrupt. Before they’d run into extreme financial hardship, Council had developed a scheme to provide water to the town. The scheme involved building a small reservoir, to be augmented by a race from Lake Kerferd, with water to be reticulated by pipes into town. Council had planned to provide water to 75 sluiceheads at the adjacent diggings but this was not realised. Instead, Beechworth had to obtain its water from the municipal wells.
Between 1862 and 1872 Lake Kerferd was unused, apart from for regattas that were held on the Lake in the 1860s, with teams from all the nearby Murray towns competing. The water of Lake Hume was sold to mining companies, but this was fraught with disagreements. A significant amount of ratepayers’ money seems to have been spent on fighting legal action.
Connolly and Others versus the Beechworth United Shire
The Council encountered opposition to the Lake Kerferd scheme from the beginning. People felt that Lake Kerferd interfered with their right of water, the most well-known example of this being Connolly & Co who had a mine at the One Mile Creek. The famous case of ‘Connolly and Others versus the Beechworth United Shire’ was held at the Supreme Court in Melbourne in July 1875. The decision was made in Connolly & Co’s favour and Council was required to pay them £3,500 for their right, title and interest in the two sluiceheads of water, plus £1,000 to cover costs.
By 1873 contracts had been let to cut a race from Lake Kerferd into the town, as well as contracts for the filter beds and settling dam. By Labour Day in 1873 pipes had been laid from Lake Kerferd to the town, with Ford St, Camp St and High St being the first to be connected. This work was completed in 1874.
Beechworth’s Water is Turned On
Beechworth’s water was officially turned on by the Honourable George Kerferd on 2 April 1874. The Honourable Councillor Frederick Brown held the hose that sent water over the Post Office tower. It is said that Cr Brown also took the opportunity to spray water over those in the crowd who had criticised him over ‘Brown’s Folly’!
Over the next two years the water was reticulated to the more remote areas of the town at an additional cost of £5,000. This was a great outcome for Beechworth but by the end of 1876 the Council was in debt by a staggering £30,489.
In 1897 the water supply was further augmented when Council purchased Trahair’s race. Later in 1900 the open race into Beechworth was replaced with iron pipes at a cost of £3,500. This was followed by the construction of the Europa Gully Tunnel in 1908, at a cost of £1,030. Following a drought on 1917, Council purchased Lorimer’s race at a cost of £1,030.
Rocky Mountain Tunnel
The formation of the Rocky Mountain Tunnel was one of the greatest engineering feats in Australian history. It is believed that without the tunnel, mining in Beechworth would have come to a halt.
The beginnings of the Rocky Mountain Company can be traced back to 1856 when a small group of miners sought the right to run a tail race from Newton Falls to the flats at Spring Creek. Over the course of 18 months and at a cost of £3,500, the miners were able to cut a tail race through solid granite rock that gave a fall of 2 inches in 12 feet. However, they weren’t able to drain the lower part of the flat with the race’s current depth.
The miners sold their rights to Messrs Telford and Ransome in 1863, who bought the three adjoining leases. A new company was formed, the Rocky Mountain Company, with a capital of £6,000 in 600 shares of £10 each.
Between October 1867 and July 1869, the existing tail race was cut to a depth of 8 feet, through 450 yards of solid rock. Tragically, a contractor was killed during the blasting operations.
Over the next seven years, the Rocky Mountain Company obtained 6,500 ounces of gold from its claim. Next, the Rocky Mountain Extended Mining Company was formed to cut a tunnel under the town of Beechworth. The courage and determination of the pioneers of the time saw them go against the advice of others and to forge ahead with cutting the tunnel, resulting in a claim 45 feet deep. Work commenced by the Rocky Mountain Extended Mining Company on 10 June 1876, using hand drills. In September 1877 equipment arrived from New Zealand, including the first boring machines in Victoria. The lack of water to operate the air pumps hindered productivity and working hours were reduced to 10 hours a day.
Following the call for new tenders, Mr John Stevens won the new contract at a price of £4 per foot and works resumed on 8 February 1877. Advances in technology included the use of compressed air to create pneumatic pressure to drill holes, a steam engine to drive the compressor, and an air extractor.
The extension of the tunnel continued over the next three years and the Rocky Mountain Tunnel was completed on 24 January 1880. The total length of the tunnel was 2,611 feet, with 2,100 feet of the tunnel being cut through rock. It took 98,280 drills and 18.5 miles of fuse to fire the 32,760 shots to bore holes totaling a length of 18 miles. A total of 8,628 tons of stone were removed.
The tunnel cost a total of £14,600 and succeeded in draining the centre of Beechworth to enable the continuation of mining. The tunnel was later used by Zwar Brothers Tannery. Today the tunnel provides for drainage for the lake and for the town.
Beechworth and the discovery of gold
Beechworth was the first district township to emerge as a result of gold, with gold first discovered in Beechworth in February 1852. The discovery was made by a prospecting party organised by a shepherd named Meldrum above the old stone bridge at the foot of Newtown Hill; this area was to become known as Spring Creek goldfield.
Later that year, thousands of diggers made their way to Spring Creek goldfield. It is said that a claim could yield 30 pounds per week. Digger Peter McCann was considered the field’s luckiest digger, washing £800 worth of gold in two weeks.
Gold was discovered at Reid’s Creek in November 1852 by one of Mr Reid’s shepherds. By this time a population of approximately 8,000 diggers had flocked to the area and were camped on the Spring Creek and Reid’s Creek goldfields.
Hurdle Flat and Europa Gully were added to the number of rich fields in 1853. The rush to Madman’s Gully occurred in March 1853, followed by Nine Mile Creek in April 1853. Nine Mile Creek became famous for the number of Scotsmen who moved there and for its richness of gold.
In the second half of 1853, attempts were made to obtain gold at Woolshed, just below Reid’s Creek diggings, but due to excess water preventing diggers from reaching the bottom, they weren’t successful. Success at Woolshed occurred in early 1854 thanks to the efforts of a determined American named Jack Barton. He used wood slabs from Reid’s old woolshed to timber brace his claims and was able to access gold. Jack Barton later became known as “Woolshed Jack”. Incredibly rich claims were worked here, with one digger discovering 200 ounces of gold.
One, Two and Three Mile Creeks reached their peak in 1855 when Chinese miners came to the previously worked One and Two Mile Creeks. By 1857 there were 2,000 miners at Three Mile Creek, with many miners washing up to 17 ounces of gold a day.
After the discovery of gold at the Woolshed came the discovery at Sebastopol. Then Canadian diggers discovered the Napoleon, with Eldorado being established in 1855.
By 1857 at least 14,000 ounces of gold was leaving Beechworth for Melbourne each fortnight on the gold escorts.
Between 1852 and 1866, it is believed the Ovens goldfield had yielded 3,121,918 ounces of gold.
Life on the Goldfields
Life on the goldfields has been described as ‘rough and often crude’ and ‘very colourful’.
The journey from Melbourne to the goldfields was a difficult one that took approximately three weeks for those who could afford the coach journey. Those without transport or the money to pay the fare had no other option than to make the journey by foot.
A Council report dated 27 November 1856 provides insight into the landscape of Beechworth at the time, with tenders called for the removal of all logs, stumps and rocks from the town’s four main streets. Shops and dwellings were largely made from canvas and wood and in his memoirs, Superintendent Sadlier refers to the ‘very unfurnished state’ of the town.
The thousands of miners erected canvas tents along Spring Creek; one of the Council’s earliest by-laws was to prohibit the erection of canvas built shops and dwellings, which as well as being unsightly were easily destroyed by fire.
There was a lack of an adequate water supply, sewerage, sanitation or basic conveniences on the goldfields and this led to an outbreak of typhoid. Doctor Harry Green was the first doctor to arrive in Beechworth. As a result of the lack of hygiene and the prevalence of disease, Doctor Green died only four months after his arrival. Between 1853 and 1860 an average of one child per week died of diseases such as measles, scarlet fever, dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid; this paints a very grim picture of the quality of life on the goldfields.
Reid’s Creek Riot
Reid’s Creek was well known for the number of criminals amongst its population, with 15 murders occurring there in the first six months.
The Reid’s Creek Riot occurred in early 1853 and was the result of growing dissatisfaction and unrest regarding the system of mining licences and the method used to calculate licences.
There was a particular dispute over a licence which led to a digger being shot by a police trooper. While the shooting was said to have been accidental, the armed miners rebelled and only the arrival of police enforcement put an end to the riots.
The “Punchers” and the “Monkeys”
The Ovens diggers belonged to one of two parties, known locally as the “Punchers” or “Monkeys”. The “Punchers” were “dry” diggers who worked the banks and gullies and wore moleskins.
The “Monkeys” were “wet” diggers who worked the streams. The Monkeys believed themselves to be superior to the Punchers and wore black woollen trousers, Napoleon boots, a silk sash and brightly coloured handkerchiefs. The leader of the Monkeys was “Big” Johnston of the Woolshed and owner of the field’s richest claim.
There was great rivalry between the two parties. Disputes between the Punchers and the Monkeys were common and kept police on their toes, especially as all diggers carried firearms.
Advances in Technology
In the early discovery of gold, lone diggers would use picks, pans and cradles to search for alluvial gold. However, with technological developments and advancements came new mining methods such as hydraulic sluicing and the use of explosives for hard rock mining.
Beechworth was famous for its use of hydraulic sluicing. This was the process of moving dirt and sediment using water. Large quantities of water were required and this involved cutting deep tail races through solid rock, which was an engineering feat at the time.
By 1880 it is thought that 900 miles of water races had been cut through soil and rock in the district of Beechworth
It is believed there were around 7,000 Chinese miners on the Beechworth goldfields at their peak. The Chinese brought vegetable and tobacco growing to the area. A separate Chinese camp was established above where Lake Sambell is situated today. The camp was essentially a miniature town with restaurants, shops, Chinese theatres, boarding houses and a Joss House (a Chinese Temple).
Chinese miners were regarded very unfavourably and with suspicion by other miners. This was largely due to their willingness to work the claims that had previously been abandoned by others. Also contributing to their hostile treatment by other miners was the fact that Chinese miners also tended to be there for the short-term, earning money to take home to their families.
In 1859 the Chinese Protector’s Office was established. The role of the Chinese Protector was to ensure good relations between Chinese miners and other miners, and to collect the miners’ rights and business licenses. The Chinese Protector’s Office later became the Mining Registration Office in 1864.
The Chinese Burning Towers were used by the Chinese to make offerings to the spirits of the dead; these included food offerings, paper money, paper prayers and burning incense.
Today around 2,000 Chinese miners are buried in the Chinese section of the cemetery at Beechworth.
The Golden Horseshoes Legend
The Golden Horseshoe Legend dates back to the State’s first election for Legislative Council in 1855. The election was held during a time of great political turbulence with great rivalry between the two miners groups, the Punchers and the Monkeys. Longtime activist for miners’ rights, Daniel Cameron, was strongly supported by the Monkeys, including “Big” Johnston who owned the Woolshed field’s richest claim. Legend had it that “Big” Johnston supplied the gold horseshoes fitted to Daniel Cameron’s horse. It is said that the “Monkeys” marched to Beechworth from the Woolshed falls carrying banners and waving flags embellished with gold in support of Cameron. When they reached the Old Vine Hotel, one mile from Beechworth, the golden horseshoes were fitted. Legend has it that the golden horseshoes were one ounce lighter by the time the procession reached Beechworth.
There was great passion displayed by all involved, partly thanks to the free beer that was being handed out during the procession. Both candidates appeared on the balcony of the Star Hotel and by a show of hands, Daniel Cameron was announced the elected candidate.
A recount was ordered by the Punchers and was held the following day at the Courthouse, with Cameron again declared the successful candidate. It is said that “Big” Johnston celebrated by ordering £300 worth of champagne.
The Golden Horseshoes Festival has been held in Beechworth over the Easter weekend every year since 1873 and is still celebrated today.
Ned Kelly has a strong connection with Beechworth’s history. The son of an Irish ex-convict, Ned was born in December 1854. Ned Kelly’s father died when Ned was only 12 years of age, with Ned having to leave school to become the breadwinner for his family.
He served a six month sentence in the Beechworth Gaol at the age of 16, for receiving a stolen horse.
Ned was an apprentice under bushranger Harry Powell and later formed the Kelly Gang, consisting of Ned, his brother Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.
After shooting and killing three police troopers near Mansfield the Kelly Gang went on the run. The Kelly Gang was supported by sympathisers, 22 of which were arrested and placed in the Beechworth Gaol in 1879. They were released after just over three months due to a lack of evidence against them.
The Kelly Gang was spotted by an informant at the house of Aaron Sheritt on Sheen Station Creek a few miles from the centre of Beechworth. There was, however, a delay of three days as the informant stopped off for drinks on his way to Beechworth, became speechlessly drunk, and was arrested and locked up.
The Kelly Gang had left Sheritt’s house and police spent years searching for the Kelly Gang in the surrounding hills. It is believed that the Kelly Gang used what are known today as the ‘Kelly Caves’ to hide at various times.
The famous Glenrowan Shootout occurred on 28 June 1880 with a violent battle between the Kelly Gang and Victoria Police. The Kelly Gang wore their homemade metal suits of armour, acquired with the proceeds from bank robberies. Ned was severely wounded and captured by police. The rest of the Kelly Gang members were killed during the shootout.
Ned Kelly’s initial hearing was held at the Beechworth Court House. He was later sent to trial at the Melbourne Supreme Court and was sentenced to death by hanging at the Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880 and Kelly’s body was buried in a mass grave.
Four-horse coaches ran between Beechworth and Melbourne during the 1850s. By 1856 this service was daily, with coaches run by Green & Connelly and by Foster’s (later to become Fosters & Vinge).
Journeys were hazardous thanks to the risks that included being bogged, flooded rivers and falling victim to bushrangers. It was said that bushranger Harry Powell was known for felling a tree in a spot just after the coach turned a sharp bend (said to be at Buckland Valley) so that he could hold up passengers and rob them.
The coach journey to Melbourne took three days and cost between £5 to £8, depending on the condition of the road. The journey time was later reduced to 36 hours.
By May of 1856 there was a two-hourly coach service between Sebastopol, Woolshed and Beechworth. By 1857 coaches ran twice a week between Beechworth and the Buckland and daily to Nine Mile, Stanley. Later coach journeys extended to Albury, Yackandandah and Chiltern.
Crawford & Connelly became the main coaching line throughout north east Victoria.
The arrival of the railway
The first train arrived in Beechworth on 13 July 1876. The ceremony for the official opening was overseen by His Excellency Sir George Bowen on 29 September 1876. It was a grand affair with a banquet attended by the Minister for Railways, Mr Jones, the Honourable George Kerferd, the Mayor of Melbourne, mayors of the surrounding towns and the French and American consuls. This was followed by a ball for 350 couples, ending with a moonlight train ride to Everton and back to Beechworth.
Beechworth’s desire to be connected to the railway is evidenced in a petition that was sent to the New South Wales Government in 1862, requesting that Beechworth be connected to Albury by railway. The Honourable George Kerferd was instrumental in having Beechworth connected to the railway. After becoming Minister for Mines and Railways in 1869 he had the branch line to Beechworth included in the Railway Construction Bill. He told his opponents “the advancement of Beechworth means more to me than my political career.” In 1874 tenders were called for the first section of the railway line. The contract was awarded to Messrs A & J Overend for £33,000 and work began in August 1874.
The Honourable George Kerferd, Premier of Victoria, was one of the first passengers to travel on this first section when it was officially opened on 1 July 1875. Councillor Frederick Brown, the then President of Beechworth Shire, met Mr Kerferd when he arrived at Everton.
The contract for the second section of the railway line was awarded to Messrs Fishburn & Moreton on 18 June 1875 for £70,018. Work began on 23 June 1876 and was completed by September of that year. A miniature town was created to house the 500 workers who constructed this section of the railway, complete with stores, hotels, workshops, contractor’s offices and stables. Canvas and bark dwellings were erected to house the men. The workers used horses, bullocks and mules to manoeuvre the earth scoops and to pull the drays and wagons. Bricks were made in kilns to create 33 bridges and 45 culverts.
Due to a decline in freight and passengers, the Beechworth to Yackandandah section closed in 1954 and the section between Everton and Beechworth was withdrawn in 1987. In the 1990s the line between Bowser and Beechworth became part of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
North East Water
The Kiewa Murray Region Water Authority became responsible for Beechworth’s water supply and wastewater services when the Authority was constituted in 1994.
Beechworth Water Treatment Plant
The Beechworth Water Treatment Plant dates back to the late 1800s.
During its first year of operation the Authority converted the existing water treatment plant to a direct filtration process and let contracts to increase the plant’s capacity to 12 megalitres a day. At that time, Beechworth’s water treatment plant was providing water to a population of 4,200.
Upgrades to the Water Treatment Plant
Kiewa Murray Water upgraded the water treatment plant between 1992 and 1995, at a capital cost of $1 million.
A major upgrade of the water treatment plant was also undertaken during 2001-2002 financial year.
Beechworth’s Water Treatment Plant is Converted to a DAFF Plant
In 2005 the North East Region Water Authority upgraded the water treatment plant and converted it to a Dissolved Air Flotation and Filtration (DAFF) plant, at a cost of approximately $2.3 million. This took the design capacity to 10 megalitres per day.
Ensuring the continued safety of Lake Kerferd
Lake Kerferd is a 900 ML storage built in the 1860s and is the sole source of water supply for the township of Beechworth. Minor works were carried out by Kiewa Murray Water around 1995, followed by the addition of a new outlet for the Lake Kerferd storage by North East Region Water Authority in 1998-99.
In 1999 the North East Region Water Authority commenced remedial works on Lake Kerferd, as part of its dam safety improvement program. The first stage of works involved constructing a new gravity outlet through the right abutment of the dam. The second stage involved widening the spillway and constructing a concrete crest and training walls, straightening the spillway alignment and strengthening the embankment. The final stage of works involved raising the embankment crest with the construction of a concrete wave wall, to increase the freeboard required to retain water levels of the probable maximum flood event.
New Concrete Water Storage Tank
During 2017-18 North East Water invested in a 3.5 million litre water storage tank for Beechworth. The tank, approximately 35 metres in diameter and 6 metres high, was constructed close to the existing water treatment plant. At an estimated cost of $1.9 million, the tank increased the treated water storage capacity for Beechworth and was part of a major project to help secure the town’s water supply well into the future.
Beechworth’s Water Supply Today
Today Beechworth’s water supply is sourced from a diversion on Nine Mile Creek and Frenchmans Creek, and a small local catchment of Lake Kerferd on Hurdle Creek.
Water is diverted from Nine Mile Creek to Lake Kerferd, through weir boards and a network of enclosed tunnels and open channels, which serve as a reminder of Beechworth’s strong history of gold mining. There is limited access to the lake, with no fishing or swimming allowed.
The raw water from Lake Kerferd is gravity fed to a 4 megalitre raw water basin located at the water treatment plant. There, treatment consists of coagulation and flocculation, dissolved air flotation and filtration and chlorine disinfection.
From the plant, the treated water moves into the No 1 clear water storage, with a capacity of 92 kilolitres, and then gravitates into a second clear water storage, with a capacity of 1.1 megalitres. The treated water is then gravity fed to the Beechworth high level reticulation, gravity fed to the 1.0 megalitre Mayday Hills tank and then gravity fed to the Beechworth low level reticulation. Silver Creek reticulation is supplied from the No 2 clear water storage with the assistance of a booster pump.
Beechworth’s Sewerage Scheme
A sewerage scheme for Beechworth was first proposed in 1925, however there was no funding available due to a decline in mining activities and it wasn’t until 1965 that the town’s sewerage scheme was approved.
The wastewater collection system was constructed between 1967 and 1970, and used vitrified clay pipes. The full gravity system included conveyance to the wastewater treatment plant.
Beechworth Wastewater Treatment Plant
The Beechworth Wastewater Treatment Plant was constructed in 1968. When the North East Region Water Authority assumed responsibility for Beechworth’s wastewater services in 1997, the plant consisted of lagoon treatment, with effluent being disposed to land during the irrigation season and to surface waters during the rest of the year. The plant would exceed discharge limits for colour and suspended solids, as well as ammonia levels. The Authority identified that considerable upgrading was required to improve the effluent quality by 2001.
In 1999 the Authority constructed a chemical dosing facility for tertiary treatment, which provided improved compliance with discharge licence requirements.
ERA process leads to Licence Amendment for North East Water
Effluent from the Wastewater Treatment Plant is discharged to waterway via its discharge point to La Serena Creek. The lagoon system at Beechworth’s wastewater treatment plant had historically failed to meet with EPA licence compliance, with the effluent containing elevated levels of nitrogen (from ammonia) during the cooler months.
North East Water explored a mechanical plant solution however this was very expensive and not financially viable. North East Water initiated a process called the Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA). The ERA process uses science and a consultative process to understand the effects that stressors (in this instance the discharge) are having on environmental values (in this case the waterway receiving the discharge). The ERA process found that the discharge to the receiving waterway was posing a relatively low risk to the receiving environment.
As a result of the Ecological Risk Assessment, the discharge licence limits were amended and an investment of approximately $6 million for a mechanical plant solution was avoided. The licence amendment was the first to occur in the State.
In 2013, North East Water improved the removal of nitrogen levels with the installation of fixed media “Aquamats”, as well as diffused aeration in Lagoon 4 of the secondary lagoons. The project was at a relatively low cost of $500,000.
Pipeline upgrade for Beechworth’s Sewer System
In March 2017 North East Water consulted with the community to discuss options to increase the capacity of the sewer pipe that runs through the Beechworth Historic Park. The planned changes to the sewer pipe will address an elevated risk of sewer spills during heavy rain events, due to a lack of capacity within the pipeline.
An upgrade of the Beechworth Wastewater Treatment Plant is planned as part of the Beechworth Wastewater system upgrade, which is scheduled to occur within the next four years.