I am President of the Beaconsfield Progress Association (BPA), and for 54 years I have resided in the Cardinia Shire, and previously part of the old Berwick Shire before the creation of City of Casey. During the past 38 years, my wife Ann and I have lived on a small acreage in Beaconsfield. I grew up in a neighbouring town enjoying the rural bushland and country lifestyle. Our two adult children were born during this time in Beaconsfield and enjoyed the lifestyle here. Beaconsfield has been a great place for us and for the children to grow up and to be part of the Beaconsfield community.
For most of the past 38 years, Ann and I have been actively involved in the Beaconsfield community. The town has developed from a partly semi-rural community to now an “outer Melbourne suburb”. However, Beaconsfield and surrounds still have some of the rural and bush areas that we enjoy like the Cardinia Creek walking trail. Ann and I are or have been members of a number of local community organisations e.g. National Trust Casey /Cardinia branch and Landcare.
We care about our local area and the community and are most concerned with some much publicised objections for future plans announced by Melbourne Water (MW) for the Beaconsfield Nature & Conservation Reserve (BNCR) and, in particular, for the Beaconsfield Reservoir (BR). We are fortunate to have visited the BNCR and BR on three occasions and were delighted by the beauty of the reservoir and reserve known for the flora and fauna and native bush. We understand the need for a partial upgrade of the reservoir wall as part of risk management. The safety of the reservoir wall is of paramount importance not just for properties in close proximity but importantly to properties downstream. Whilst a breach of the reservoir wall is unlikely, works proposed by Melbourne Water on a Partial Upgrade should not be opposed on the grounds of safety and risk management. This Partial Upgrade will have other benefits including new amenities and allow access by the general public which far outweighs another option of a full upgrade of the reservoir wall. The full upgrade option unfortunately excludes new amenities and will keep the BNCR closed to the general public as has been the case in the past.
A Brief History
When Flinders Naval Base (now HMAS Cerberus) on the Mornington Peninsula required a reliable water source, Haunted Gully was chosen as a suitable site for a Reservoir.
Land was compulsorily acquired and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission began construction of the Bunyip Main Race and the Beaconsfield Reservoir. The earthen dam wall and the work shaping the reservoir was completed in 1918 using sustenance labour. Initially water was channelled from the Toomuc Creek by an aqueduct requiring some tunnels through hilly areas to the Beaconsfield Reservoir. In the 1940’s Bunyip River joined to the Toomuc Creek supply using open channels. In 1957 Tarago River and in 1969 the Tarago Reservoir were connected to the supply. When the Beaconsfield Reservoir reached its peak, there were pipelines to Berwick and Harkaway, other local areas, some outer metropolitan areas as well as the Mornington Peninsula. The completion of the Cardinia Reservoir replaced the water supply issues for these areas and the Beaconsfield Reservoir was decommissioned in 1988. In 1997, Melbourne Water decommissioned the Race between Beaconsfield Reservoir and Cannibal Creek in Tynong due to deterioration of water quality. The aqueduct is non-operational however parts still exist and there are aqueduct walking trails to explore that are managed by Cardinia Shire Council.
The BNCR is managed by Cardinia Environment Coalition (CEC) on behalf of The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). Additional stakeholders include Cardinia Shire Council and Friends of the BNCR.
Melbourne Water Proposal
In recent years, Melbourne Water has been working with the 4 other stakeholders as well as members of the community and through Community Groups. In my view, extensive consultation has already occurred between MW, stakeholders and the wider community. My involvement started after we were told about a public meeting concerning the future of the BR was held by the Upper Beaconsfield Association on 8 March, 2019 which Ann and I attended.
The proposed refurbishment of Beaconsfield Reservoir by Melbourne Water is based on Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) centred on Dam Safety, Community Impacts and Environmental and Conservation Impacts. Based on the MW analysis, they found that the Partial Decommissioning (to water level of 94 m AHD) was superior to the Full Dam Safety Upgrade (to water level existing of 98 m AHD). There were two other options of either reducing the water level to 92 m AHD or substantial draining of the water however both these were considered inappropriate and unacceptable to the local community. Some benefits of the preferred Partial Dam Safety Upgrade compared to the Full Dam Safety Upgrade include:
- The dam would be considered a “Low” risk after a Partial Upgrade but would still be considered a “High” risk after a Full Upgrade hence a greater potential for loss if a failure occurred.
- Removing approx. 6 metres from the top of the dam wall will allow reduction of water volume and protect the wall against failure.
- The site will be safer for public access in a partial upgrade due to changes in the embankment.
- Through reducing the depth of the water level in a Partial Upgrade, a more diverse range of habitat will be achieved to enhance biodiversity outcomes.
- The partial upgrade option will still provide enough clearance for the water to be accessed by helicopters if needed in a fire emergency. However, Cardinia Reservoir and Lake Aura Vale are already the designated local locations for safer access to larger bodies of water.
- The historic features of this 102 year old reservoir will still be retained with the partial upgrade option. Alternatively, the full upgrade option would require a significant change to the dam wall with massive amounts of soil, rock and filling to buttress the wall and valley below which would significantly change the visual and therefore historical aspects of the dam wall.
My involvement commenced in early 2019 however consultations commenced well before then between the five stakeholders. Since early 2019, Ann and I have attended a public meeting at Upper Beaconsfield, attended a meeting of “Interested Parties” for the Beaconsfield Reservoir and also made a submission to another of their meetings, attended Melbourne Water Information Session held at Beaconsfield Community Complex, attended the Open Day at the Beaconsfield Reservoir/BNCR arranged by Cardinia Environment Coalition, visited the BR/BNCR with others arranged by the then Public Lands Manager of CEC who was also Guest Speaker at our Beaconsfield Progress Assoc. Inc. Annual General Meeting held during October, 2019. We have kept ourselves informed by consulting with key stakeholders and various people in the community on many aspects of the proposals for BR/BNCR.
Many residents of the Cardinia Shire are not aware of the BR/BNCR as there are many new residents coming into the Shire and the property has not been accessible to the majority of the general public with safety concerns with the reservoir wall. However, some people have extensively used social media and the local newspaper, The Pakenham Gazette, to express their views and, in particular, that there should be no changes to the height of the dam wall or to the water level. If these people’s views on the Beaconsfield Reservoir wall which is in line with the Melbourne Water Full Upgrade Option are accepted, then Melbourne Water have stated that, for safety reasons, the BNCR will not be generally accessible to the public and that the improvements including boardwalks, viewing platforms, walking trails and signage, indigenous wetlands plantings, toilets, picnic tables, BBQ and a shelter would not proceed. The current estimated costs are $14 million for the full upgrade and $9 million for the partial upgrade which includes the improvements. The responsibility for ongoing future maintenance and improvements needs to be decided. Hopefully, Cardinia Shire Council can include this cost in future budgets as it does for other reserves in the Shire. Alternatively Parks Victoria could assume overall financial and management responsibility for the BNCR as happens in other decommissioned reservoirs e.g. Devil Bend.
My consultations indicate members of the community prefer future access and therefore support the Partial Upgrade Option. Our Beaconsfield Progress Assoc. Inc. endorsed the Partial Upgrade Option in December, 2020.
The BNCR incorporating the Beaconsfield Reservoir is an important Nature Reserve which should be open to the general public to passively enjoy its beauty and historical significance. The principal factor for consideration is the safety of the dam wall which is already showing some seepage. The partial safety upgrade option is, in my view and the view of Beaconsfield Progress Association members, superior to the full upgrade option as the safest option for the dam wall and it will provide the better visual aspect of the dam wall for historical purposes and it is the current option to allow safe access to the general public and to have new improvements provided for enjoyment for those utilising the BNCR.
Many of the claims made regarding flora and fauna as well as environmental issues were responded to by CEC member Ian Chisholm in an article in the Pakenham Gazette on 9 December, 2020 . I have already detailed some responses about the Beaconsfield Reservoir and related infrastructure and I will now comment on some further unsubstantiated claims made by others supporting no changes to the height of the dam wall and water level as follows:
- “reducing the water capacity to a few shallow ponds“. Are they aware that the Partial Upgrade water level of the dam will be approx. 4 metres and, if so, does that constitute a few shallow ponds? In the outer reaches of the reservoir, some areas will deliberately have low water levels as it is designed as a wetlands area to encourage birds, plants etc and enhance biodiversity of the area.
- “substantially demolishing the 102 year old reservoir wall and draining most of the water“. Are they aware that the wall would only be reduced by approx. 6 metres and that the water level would only be reduced by about one-half to reduce the pressure of the higher water volume mass and done for safety purposes so that some wall can be lowered but mostly retained.
- “firefighting importance to the local community“. I understand that water helicopters are designated to use Cardinia Reservoir and Lake Aura Vale however water can still be accessed from BR if needed as it complies with the necessary requirements.
- “the Beaconsfield Reservoir could be used to supply a town water supply “. The reservoir is only a relatively small reservoir and has a very small catchment area having previously relied on water from other reservoirs. The reservoir is riddled with mosquito fish, poor water quality and has no significant supply of water after the aqueduct was closed. There is very little run off from the property. Instead, the reduction of the water volume and planting of native vegetation will facilitate the return of cleaner water to assist in the ecology.
I believe that the interests of the community and of Cardinia Shire Council is to adopt the Partial Upgrade Option as proposed by Melbourne Water and work co-operatively with them. Further, that Cardinia Shire Council as a stakeholder pursues this issue with Melbourne Water and come to an agreement including on future maintenance costs. Hopefully, the Partial Upgrade Option is accepted, and our local communities can look forward to being able to visit the beautiful BNCR in the foreseeable future and not have to wait another 102 years.
By Graeme J. Taylor