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Heritage and history

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The history of Greater Sydney's water supply is a fascinating and often dramatic story as our engineers and city planners worked to adapt to a rapidly growing population and regular droughts ever since 1788.

Dip into our water story with the water supply timeline to journey from early Sydney to the present day.

Or find out about the Upper Nepean Scheme which is celebrating 125 years of supplying Sydney with water - a scheme we still rely on today.

As a result of this rich history, WaterNSW today manages a diverse range of cultural heritage items, including dams and associated infrastructure, weirs, homesteads, derelict mines and bridges.

You can find a full listing of these items which have State or local significance on the heritage and conservation register.

Contact our heritage officer if you have any questions or feedback on aspects of our water history.


Take a journey in time - water supply 1778 to now

The British settled Australia in January 1788. Some 859 convicts, soldiers, and administrators set up camp around the stream that emptied into Sydney Cove.

Warragamba Dam builders
Our dam histories

We manage a collection major water supply dams – each with their own unique and fascinating story. Six of these dams are listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Cordeaux Dam
The homesteads

WaterNSW's landholdings in the Southern Highlands and tablelands include a number of historic homesteads. The heritage properties are on land purchased between 1968 and the 1980s for the proposed Welcome Reef Dam on the upper Shoalhaven River. The dam has been deferred indefinitely, however as the landholder, WaterNSW continues to manage the lands and heritage properties.

Khama Lea Homestead
Our natural heritage

Wingecarribee Swamp is left over from the last ice age. It is listed as an endangered ecological community, contains a rich array of water and bog plants, some of which are endangered and vulnerable, and several indigenous and non-indigenous heritage sites.

Wingecarribee Dam
Water schemes

As the water supply system for Greater Sydney expanded to support a growing population over, major new additions to the system were called 'schemes'. Two schemes are now listed on the heritage register and each tells a fascinating part of our water history:

Upper Nepean Scheme workers
Heritage register

WaterNSW manages a diverse range of cultural heritage assets, including dams and associated infrastructure, weirs, homesteads, derelict mines and bridges. A number of these sites are heritage listed and we keep a register of heritage items known as a heritage and conservation register to assist in managing and maintaining these assets.

Cataract Dam
Sunday 24 June
1,789,177 ML
2,581,749 ML
7,266 ML
1,038 ML
-9,285 ML
Sunday 24 June