For almost two years RACV member Maria Marziale has been making regular visits to the Yarra Valley, delivering important news to the local community.
As an engagement adviser with Melbourne Water she needed to talk to farmers, winemakers and residents about huge digging machines, deep trenches and gaining access to their land. The reason? A 5.7-kilometre section of the Maroondah Aqueduct that runs through private properties in Yarra Glen and Dixons Creek needed replacing and realigning.
Maria was keen to reassure locals. “I knew residents would be concerned about the security of their water supply.”
Masterpiece of engineering
Built in the early 1890s, the 62.5-kilometre aqueduct from Healesville to Preston in Melbourne’s north provided some of the first reliable drops of clean drinking water to Melbourne. It was a masterpiece of engineering at the time.
But the aqueduct had reached its use-by date. Cracks in the pipes had caused leaks, and open concrete-lined channels meant native animals sometimes fell in and drowned.
In 2015, almost 18 months before the first sod was due to be turned and the first new pipe laid, Maria began door-knocking.
“Engaging early with the community is really important to us. It’s at the heart of everything we do,” she says.
“A lot were really sceptical when we first went to meet with them.”
Some were concerned how the works would impact on their water supplies and livelihoods, and others were sentimentally attached to the old aqueduct.
“Many of the people recounted stories of playing near the aqueduct as children,” Maria says.
But by answering their questions, explaining the need to build new pipes below ground, to fill the open channels with soil in order to improve public safety and water quality, and by constantly providing updates via face-to-face meetings, social media, text messages, emails and phone calls, things soon changed. Maria gained their trust and Melbourne Water was given access to private land for the new aqueduct. “They (landholders) have been great. They were all welcoming of us and very hospitable.”
The wedding factor
Maria says she had to engage with quite a few wineries. “Our contractor got a list of all the weddings so they can co-ordinate moving equipment out of the photographers’ shots. We want to make sure we are not impacting on anyone’s special day.”
The aqueduct project is due for completion in August.