With sweeping hills, idyllic land and access to the Ovens River, it’s a wonder why Harrietville didn’t pop onto the early settler’s radar sooner. Admittedly, it was hard to get there. For several years the settlement was reached by rough horse tracks, and the surrounding hilly country was thickly wooded.
Those obstacles were quickly overcome once gold was discovered in 1852, suddenly swamping the half dozen pastoralists with miners. Within ten years, the number had swollen 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, they 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 Council of the Shire of Bright appointed the Bright District Water Board to carry out the investigations into a suitable water supply. This followed previous advice from the Health Surveyor who urged that the water supply be tested, as a number of residents had been hospitalised due to water-borne diseases. The Bright District Water Board appointed consulting engineer, John Scroggie to assist with the investigation. 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, which involved the diversion of water 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.
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, 2,900 metres of supply and reticulation pipelines, and 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
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. The pump station on the East Arm of the Ovens River was also completed.
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, lasting 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 then.
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; 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, therefore was obliged to issue a Boil Water Notice to customers. This was followed by the Boil Water Notices being 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 Harrietville watreatment plant uses water taken from the Ovens River. Treatment includes coagulation, flocculation, granular media filters and chlorination.
The treated water is pumped to the Alpine Road tank and gravity fed to the Harrietville reticulation. The formerly used Simmons Creek tank is offline indefinitely.
Harrietville’s Water Supply Today
Harrietville has its own water supply system. 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 is no raw water storage. There was a previous supply from Simmons Creek to Harrietville, but this 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.