We have a long history of managing Sydney's water supply, which means we contribute to a significant part of Greater Sydney's heritage through our built landscapes, including buildings, objects and relics, and our natural living landscapes and ecosystems. They're all part of our heritage. Our heritage connects our past with our future, from one generation to the next.
We protect over 200 heritage-listed assets for future generations. They have either local or state heritage significance.
To capture the history and use of state heritage assets, we collect historic photographs, drawings and general research. We write conservation management plans to help us maintain the heritage value for the future.
Use our Heritage and Conservation Register (S170 Register) to search for and learn about our heritage assets. You can also investigate the and check out your council's Local Environment Plans.
We protect and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage by respecting its presence in the landscape. This includes:
We recognise that these sites provide Aboriginal people with a direct link to their traditional culture.
We carefully consider how to minimise or avoid impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage by diverting pipelines around Aboriginal sites or underboring, and limiting works to areas that have been previously disturbed wherever possible.
We openly consult throughout our projects to ensure we consider and respect the views of Aboriginal people about their cultural heritage.
There are more than 160 natural heritage sites in our operating area, and we value conserving them for present and future generations. These sites feature physical and biological formations that have outstanding aesthetic or scientific values.
We own 3 sites with natural heritage. These sites are also listed on the
We consider natural heritage values in environmental assessments before projects begin, in line with legislative and policy frameworks.
We maintain the Sydney Water / WaterNSW Historical Research Archive at West Ryde, located in the former Boiler House offices. Our collection dates back to the beginning of the Board of Water Supply & Sewerage in 1888.
We have photographs dating from the 1890s to 1993. We’ve scanned over 70,000 negatives to preserve them for the future. The archive also has an extensive historical document collection and many small moveable heritage items. We even have a complete set of Board minutes, dating back to 1888.
You're welcome to email our Archivist for more information.
A lot has changed since the time of Sydney's first water supply.
Sydney has faced droughts and floods, population growth, industry and recreational water needs and protected both environmental and public health. Our needs and our values about water have changed.
You can learn more about our history from our.
Growing a city
At the time of European arrival in Australia, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation lived around the area we now know as the City of Sydney. These original custodians had a close relationship with both freshwater and saltwater. These waterways provided transport routes, drinking water, food and resources.
At times when water was scarce due to drought, they dug for groundwater and filtered it with grass and bark to remove sediments.
The Gadigal people used landscape features, plants and animals as markers to find water. They managed water sustainably for thousands of years and were careful not to pollute their water supplies.
In 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet arrived, it was an unusually cool and wet summer. The landing site, where Sydney is now located, was selected, as it had '... the finest spring of water' according to Phillip's diary. The 'streamlet', as it was first called, was the only source of fresh water. Unfortunately, within 5 years of the new colony's establishment a drought dried up the water supply. Tanks were dug into the sandstone near the stream to capture the limited flow of water. This is how the Tank Stream got its name.
was Sydney's second water supply. Built from 1827 to 1837, it was a tunnel that brought water from the Lachlan Swamp (now Centennial Park) to Hyde Park.
As Sydney has grown we've searched for new sources of water to meet the demand. Historically, our drinking water supply has relied on rainfall alone, collected from creeks, freshwater wetlands and, later, constructed dams.
Most of Sydney's drinking water supply is distributed using gravity-feed pipes. This means we use the natural slope of the environment to get water to our homes. The was a major engineering project that channelled water from the , and to a reservoir at to be distributed throughout Sydney. In some cases, we need to pump water uphill to reservoirs. West Ryde Pumping Station was completed in 1921. This allowed water to be pumped to the Northern Suburbs of Sydney.
As Sydney grew into a global city, we had to look for new ways to meet increased water demand. Over the course of 50 years, from 1960 to 2010, we experienced 3 major drought periods. Each influenced a major development in water capture for the city:
Today,manages 21 dams and reservoirs in Greater Sydney.
was Sydney’s first supply of water. As the settlement grew along the stream, land was cleared, animals had direct access to the water and humans dumped their waste, polluting the stream.
To protect the water supply:
Wastewater (sewage) from houses and buildings, industrial waste and stormwater all flowed to the harbour. The public were not happy about the pollution. Measures were taken to separate the wastewater from the stormwater:
As Sydney grew into a global city, we had to look for new ways to remove increased amounts of wastewater. Our coastal plants increased capacity and more inland plants were constructed to treat the wastewater being created by a growing population.
From 1984 to 1990, we built deep water ocean outfalls at Bondi, North Head and Malabar. These plants resulted in large-scale improvement of water quality on Sydney’s beaches.
Today, greater Sydney has 30 wastewater treatment plants and water recycling plants. These plants treat a total of about 1.5 billion litres of wastewater a day.
There’s growing awareness of the environmental impacts of human activities. We’ve responded by improving wastewater services. Wastewater treatment plants are constantly improved and upgraded to separate waste from the water before going back into the environment or being used as recycled water.
We're always coming up with new ways to use the highly treated recycled water and other by-products, such as solids recycling and generating renewable energy.
Learn more about water recycling.
Sydney is a dynamic and growing city, and Sydney Water is working to make sure that we have a reliable supply of water and protect the environment for the future. We're helping to make sure Greater Sydney is resilient to our variable climate and a great place to live, with: