Preston Reservoir

We’re currently staying in Reservoir, which, as it turns out, is named after the reservoirs. This one’s gonna get nerdy. So the European settlers started turning up in Melbourne around 1803, and mostly drank out of the Yarra River. As the city got bigger, the river became more and more polluted, frequently giving people typhoid and eventually earning the name ‘Yarra Soup’ (link in the poster attachment at the bottom). By 1857, the population had boomed to 100,000, and the city completed a mega-reservoir, Yan Yean, which held 30 billion litres of water. It was the largest artificial reservoir in the world. Now, Yan Yean is about 30km north of Melbourne’s CBD, and in 1864, work was completed on the first Preston Reservoir, which served sort of as a holding tank a modest 12km out. That’s what we’re talking about today.

Melbourne has always had a problem with water. Today they have permanent water restrictions, and in the potted history of Melbourne’s water found here, we can see those problems stretching back to the time of European settlement. Over time, the Yan Yean reservoir has been joined by many others, such that Melbourne’s total water storage capacity today is around 1,810 billion litres. The Preston Reservoir is just one tiny part of that process.


So I’m not a hundred percent sure how much the initial reservoir (Reservoir No. 1) was able to hold. It was taken offline in 1989, and is apparently only used occasionally now “for flushing out the system” (link). The ones that are actually still online are Reservoirs No. 2 and 3, which were built in 1909 and 1913, and hold 112 million litres and 120 million litres respectively. The reservoirs were originally uncovered, and pines and cypresses were installed as windbreakers, to stop the wind carrying dust and shit into the water. One row of trees was recently replaced, as it was apparently “posing a safety risk to people and property” (link). Intriguing, but unfortunately not further explained. So the government pulled out a bunch of the cypress trees along the eastern side of High Street in 2014, replacing them with the native Black Sheoak in 2015. I’m not a tree person, but I think you can see the two different types in the picture below. The Black Sheoak (not actually black) is on the left, the eastern side, while the other side is supposedly still populated by the Monterey cypress. The idea is that the Black Sheoak is smaller, only growing up to 8-12 metres, while the cypress can reach a whopping 40 metres.


It’s apparently pretty typical for the Monterey cypress to be used as a windbreaking tree in both New Zealand and Australia, explaining why it was planted here in the first place. Like I said, they wanted windbreakers to stop random shit being carried into the water supply. But eventually the reservoirs were just covered, which seems smarter. The coverings mean that the photos aren’t always very interesting, as there’s not a fuck of a lot to see. That said, it’s not like the government want people wandering around in the water supply anyway – it’s just asking for trouble. You can see below that they’ve got a notice in place about prosecuting trespassers – they really have to take this stuff seriously, partly because of the precarious nature of water in Melbourne, and partly because, you know, it’s a water supply.


This is a bit of a tangent, actually, but I looked up the fines for trespassing on the reservoir, and learned something interesting about the Australian legal system. You’ll note in the image above that offenders will be prosecuted by By Law No. 1: Water Supply Protection. That’s by By-Law, not by by law – anyway. I looked it up (here, pdf down the bottom), and trespassers are fined “20 penalty units, plus up to 5 penalty units for each day on which the offence continues.” A penalty unit is the Australian government’s cheap way of dealing with inflation. Normally, we might have a set group of fines for different offences. So for instance in New Zealand, if you’re going up to 10km over the speed limit, the police can issue you a $30 fine. But inflation means that you’re going to have to adjust that number over time. In a hundred years, $30 might be what you pay for a bottle of milk – so the fine needs to be revised so it’s more appropriate. In Australia, they’ve short-cut the process of revising each fine individually by creating these penalty units, which is just a set amount of money. Currently in Victoria, one penalty unit is $161. Different fines receive a set number of penalty units, and then the government can just revise the one number – they just have revise how much a penalty unit is worth, rather than fiddling with each individual fine. Nifty.

Anyway, according to this by-law, the fine for illegally entering the reservoir is 20 penalty units, or $3220. If you go further and interfere with the water, including just touching it, there’s another $3220, and it’s the same again if you bring animals into the area. It’s all pretty common sense stuff – you don’t want dickheads wrecking the water supply. It’s difficult enough keeping Melbourne in water without you going and sticking your finger in one of the reservoirs.

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