Water tower still going strong after 125 years

12 October 2018

Liebig Street tower new paint

The Liebig Street Water Tower

Only 125 years ago, Warrnambool enjoyed the rather unenviable distinction of being the only large town in Victoria without a proper water supply.

Today it seems extraordinary that a town of nearly 6,000 people did not have a reliable water supply until some 50 years after it was established, despite being located between two rivers – the Hopkins and the Merri.

The Warrnambool Waterworks Scheme was adopted after 25 years of debate and ideas for a suitable source of water. Options suggested included Lake Cartcarrong at Winslow, Cudgee Creek, Lake Gillear, Lake Elingamite and an artesian supply. Most of the ideas were dismissed because of the high costs involved or an inadequate supply of water.

The Merri River was selected as the most practical and inexpensive source, providing reasonably good water which could be improved by passing it through a sand filter.

The scheme included a weir across the river to gravitate the water to three settling basins which were located at the northern end of Queens Road.

A steam-powered unit would then pump the water via a 30-centimetre cast iron main to the Liebig Street basin and tower (both which are still in operation today). Constructed of local sandstone, which has since been rendered over, the tower supports a 0.2-megalitre steel water tank.

A large crowd attended the opening celebrations of the water scheme on 12 October 1893. The events included a demonstration of the water pressure by the fire brigade which was, in fact, so strong that it burst one hose and required the full strength of the branch man to keep himself steady.

Opening of Warrnambool Waterworks 1893

The opening of the Warrnambool Waterworks Scheme on 12 October 1893

Leading figures at the ceremony spoke of how the reticulated water supply would introduce new industries to the city, and boost its reputation as a health and tourist resort.

However, the supply from the Merri River had its issues. The water was too hard for domestic washing and industrial use, and the volume available gradually dropped as farming activities along the river grew.

An alternative supply was investigated, and the Otway area was identified as a potential source in 1929. The idea was to obtain a reliable supply from the Arkins Creek catchment, providing water for Warrnambool as well as Cobden, Camperdown and Terang.

The project was costly, particularly given the Great Depression at the time. It wasn’t until substantial grants from unemployment relief funds became available that the Otway Scheme was considered an economic proposition.

The construction of the new supply system finally began in 1935 and Warrnambool’s new water supply was commissioned four years later. The historic Liebig Street tower remains part of the supply system and continues to play a vital role in delivering water to Wannon Water’s customers today.

Read more about the history of the south-west water supply here.


From the Merri to the Gellibrand - MJ Johnstone and DS Johnstone

Warrnambool Standard