Dunedin, or ‘Mud-edin’ as the wags called it, was struggling to provide basic services even before gold fever boosted its population from 2000 in 1860 to 20,000 by 1864. After one citizen condemned the water supply as ‘only fit for sewage’, the Town Board passed the Dunedin Waterworks Company Guaranteed Interest Ordinance of 1863 to encourage investors to build a new water supply. The Dunedin Waterworks Company Ltd did the job but so upset consumers with its charges that the Dunedin City Council took over the dam in 1875.
After selecting Ross Creek in Woodhaugh Valley, engineer Ralph Donkin began supervising builder David Proudfoot’s work in August 1865. Donkin designed the dams, number one (23 m high) and number two (10 m), and the photogenic valve tower, enhanced by its alternating bands of Port Chalmers breccia and Leith Valley andesite. The dams have a puddled clay core and hold 225 million litres. By the time work finished the company had replaced Donkin with first James Balfour and then John McGregor. The dam was opened on 9 December 1867 as the ‘Royal Albert Reservoir’, named after Queen Victoria’s late husband.
That name did not stick but although Ross Creek has had occasional problems with leakage, it was until relatively recently one of only three working 19th-century water supply dams left in New Zealand. In 2013-14 work commenced on a $2.1 million strengthening of the old earth embankment, to be followed by the provision of a new pumping station. Although Dunedin now has other reservoirs, Deep Creek and Deep Stream, the restored Ross Creek will still be an important asset to the network.
It is also a pleasant recreational reserve, reached either from Woodhaugh Gardens (at the northern end of George Street) or off Burma Road in Maori Hill. You can walk around the lakes and admire the dams and the stone and concrete-lined side channels.