Dartmouth is the little town that could. Named after the Dart River, now cut off by Lake Dartmouth, gold was officially reported as being discovered in 1874. A short-lived but vast goldfield was created, with five steam crushing mills. An allied mining settlement was established at Zulu Creek, and a school was established in 1909, but closed within three years. It would several decades to put Dartmouth on the map.
Construction of Lake Dartmouth
Dartmouth came to the fore in 1970 when approval was reached under the River Murray Agreement for the building of the Dartmouth dam where several streams (including the Dart) converged at the Mitta Mitta’s headwaters. An earlier proposal for a storage near the borders of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria (Chowilla) had been abandoned on the grounds of cost and high evaporation. It had been proposed chiefly to safeguard water for South Australia, and the Dartmouth project was conceived for holding water for slow release to the Murray River and downstream supply to South Australia. Its primary purpose became the storage of water for irrigation, and domestic and livestock supply in Victoria and New South Wales.
Construction of Lake Dartmouth began in 1973. A planned township for the contractors and workforce was provided including a shopping centre, a hall, a primary school, sports facilities and a caravan park. In 1976 the town’s estimated population was 1,650 people.
When completed in 1978, Lake Dartmouth had a hydroelectric power station and a capacity of 4 million megalitres. The town was sold after the project’s completion, and by 1991 the town had been sold again. Today there remains a hotel, motel units and a caravan park. The Mitta Mitta River has been widened by weirs to form Lake Banimboola, adjacent to the former township.
Dartmouth Dam was constructed between 1973 and 1979, and has felt the effects of the decade-long drought that occurred in the late 1990s. This was followed by incredibly low storage levels in 2007, when the dam was only 11 per cent full. This provided a grim and desolate picture, especially compared with the 2.8 million megalitres held by the dam in October 2014.
North East Water
Kiewa Murray Region Water Authority became responsible for Dartmouth’s water and wastewater services when the Authority was constituted in December 1994. By 1995 the Authority was providing water and wastewater services to a population of 100.
Dartmouth’s water network was completed in the mid 1970s, as part of the construction camp for Dartmouth Dam. There are approximately 8 kilometres of Asbestos Cement potable water mains that were installed around 1974, with a small amount of PVC mains.
Dartmouth didn’t have a water treatment plant and the supply was not fully treated. Water was sourced from the Mt Tabor Creek, into the Mt Tabor Creek reservoir.
Incidentally, Lake Tabor was built to support the town whilst the Dartmouth Dam was being constructed. After the water was extracted from the Mt Tabor Creek reservoir, disinfection in the form of sodium hypochlorite was applied, before the water was provided to Dartmouth’s customers.
However, the storage wasn’t able to meet the demands of the summer months during dry periods. During the 1998-99 financial year, the North East Region Water Authority invested in an alternative supply for Dartmouth, from the Mitta Mitta River. Water was then pumped to a small disinfection plant that was installed the same year.
The town would experience varying water quality at times, including discolouration of the water supply due to the system being unfiltered.
In 2010, North East Water installed a temporary filtration plant – up until this point the supply was chlorinated only.
A Secure Water Supply for Dartmouth
On 27 July 2012, North East Water’s Deputy Chair, Frank Burfitt, officially opened a new Water Treatment Plant for Dartmouth. The plant was built in-house by Brian Scobie, an employee of North East Water. The fully automated treatment plant uses treatment barriers consisting of coagulation / flocculation, pressure filtration and chlorine disinfection, to provide a high quality of water to Dartmouth’s residents all year round. The benefits to the Dartmouth community also included the secure water supply increasing Dartmouth’s appeal for tourists.
North East Water acknowledged the input received from the Dartmouth community when the treatment plant opened, and thanked local resident John Scales, who operated the previous water treatment system for many years. Incidentally, John is also a third generation mountain farmer who helped to construct the Dartmouth Dam in the 1970s.
Today Dartmouth’s water supply is drawn either from Lake Tabor, which is fed by Mount Tabor Creek or from the Mitta Mitta River. The water is then treated at the Water Treatment Plant, moved to the clear water storages and then sent to the Dartmouth reticulation.
Dartmouth’s Sewerage System
Dartmouth’s sewerage system was constructed in the mid-1970s from vitrified clay pipes. Today the system is almost entirely vitrified clay piping from around 1973. There are two gravity catchments; sewage from the Jitema Street catchment is pumped into the second catchment, before being gravity fed the 420 metres to the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The Dartmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant was constructed in 1973, to cater for the workers constructing the Dartmouth Dam. The same wastewater treatment plant is still used today. Given that the population of Dartmouth decreased significantly following the construction of the dam, the wastewater treatment plant is now surplus to the requirements of the town. The plant consists of an imhoff tank (which removes solids) and sludge lagoon, a primary and secondary lagoon and two maturation lagoons. Following treatment, the water is discharged into the Mitta Mitta River.