Our most precious resource

SPLASHING OUT ON SUMA: The single arch Suma Park Dam wall under construction, August 1, 1960.
SPLASHING OUT ON SUMA: The single arch Suma Park Dam wall under construction, August 1, 1960.

DURING the late 1800s each home in Orange had its own well with residents using a windlass or winch and a bucket, and the more expensive homes had pumps installed. The wells were sunk next to homes and the water was hard and with house drainage seeping into it, it was considered impure.

The first move to establish a water supply for Orange was made in 1876 when council sent a deputation to Surveyor Fisher seeking advice, a hydraulic engineer visited Orange to further investigate and then funding was sought from the government scheme providing water for country towns.

After years of concern over the unreliability of Blackmans Swamp Creek as a water supply the council in 1877 attempted to persuade the government to “finance a more permanent and secure supply of water”.

The issue of groundwater contamination was raised where it was stated that “it is simply a question of time when wells become contaminated”. This concern proved to be true when there was a typhoid outbreak in 1890.

Council decided in October 1887 to accept liability for the cost of establishing a water supply and in 1888 tenders were called. By the following year the Gosling Creek Reservoir was completed and stocked with 2000 perch, cod, silver bream and yellow belly, a gift to council from JW Smith of the Royal Hotel.

The city’s first water supply, Gosling Creek, was opened by Lord Carrington on October 9, 1890, and was celebrated with a public banquet, mayoral reception and a ball. The total cost of the Gosling Creek project was 32, 688 (pounds).

In January 1916 work began on the Meadow Creek or Lake Canobolas Reservoir and completed in 1918. The cost of the dam was 32,000 pounds and with the total costs of the auxiliary water supply being 56,000 (pounds). Water was pumped to Orange via the two megalitre service tank on Cargo Road by two pumps powered by coal gas engines.

The system was used on a regular basis until about 1935 but also on an intermittent basis in dry periods until the end of World War II. Water from both Gosling Creek and Lake Canobolas was unfiltered and untreated and the water quality was apparently poor. It was commonplace at the time for householders to use alum to clarify water before washing clothes.

In December 1929 work began on a new reservoir at the junction of Spring and Gosling creeks about four kilometres south-east of Orange. By 1931, the Spring Creek Dam, filtration plant and 4.5ML service tank were constructed. The dam was built downstream from Gosling Creek Dam to create a catchment area of about 63 square kilometres.

During the 1940s there was much discussion about building a new dam for the city. In February 1950 mayor Dr W Matthews secured a promise from Public Works that it would subsidise the cost of Suma Park Dam. He said it was difficult to fix a starting date because every available skilled person had been “combed out” by the government for the Snowy River Scheme.

Tenders were called for the construction of single arch dam, not commonly built in Australia, at Suma Park located four kilometres east of the city.

Local government minister Jack Renshaw performed the official start-of-work ceremony at the dam site on September 26, 1958, at the invitation of the mayor alderman L Cassey.

In October 1960 about 2500 people attended an open day at the 60 per cent completed dam. By 1961 the dam was finished at an estimated cost of 589,000 pounds and officially commissioned by NSW public works minister PN Ryan on November 24, 1962, from a platform near the dam wall during dust squalls and strong winds.

Orange City Council, like many of its other inland city counterparts, continues to make the most of its most precious resource – water. Its innovative and award-winning stormwater harvesting scheme has become an integral part of the city’s water supply. The scheme captures some of the high flows in Blackmans Swamp Creek during storms and transfers these to nearby Suma Park Dam.

The Blackmans Swamp Creek Stormwater Harvesting Scheme represents the first large scale, indirect-to-potable stormwater harvesting project in Australia.

The project is capable of providing between 1300-2100ML of additional water into Orange’s raw water supply each year from the city’s stormwater system, meeting up to 40 per cent of the city’s total water needs.

The scheme was officially opened by Phillip Costa MP, NSW minister for water, on August 27, 2009.