26 September 2023

Melbourne Water sniffs out ‘Smellbourne’

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Melbourne Water has marked 130 years to the day since the formation of Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) and the first steps to creating Melbourne’s sewerage system.

Managing Director of Melbourne Water, Michael Wandmaker said that on 18 March 1891 a group of visionaries took the first step towards improving the health and sanitation for Melbourne’s citizens.

“Back then the city was dubbed ‘Smellbourne’ because many households were emptying sewage straight into open drains that flowed into streets and on to local rivers and creeks,” Mr Wandmaker said.

“Disease was rife – and a Royal Commission [was] called to find a solution,” he said.

“The answer – the historic formation and first board meeting of the newly-formed Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) which, 130 years later, has evolved into Melbourne Water.”

Mr Wandmaker said MMBW’s first tasks were to construct an innovative and revolutionary sewerage system and take responsibility for managing the city’s water supply.

“Construction of the sewerage system began in 1892 under the leadership of MMBW’s first engineer-in-chief William Thwaites,” he said.

“In 1897 the Western Treatment Plant (WTP) at Werribee began operations and the first homes were connected to the sewerage system.”

Mr Wandmaker said MMBW was considered visionary at the time, and built a vast network of sewers and water supply systems which made Melbourne the envy of many cities around the world.

He said Melbourne Water, which started as the city’s wholesale water company in 1995, was constantly evolving operations to address current challenges as well as those of the future, such as climate change and increased urbanisation.

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