Chichester Dam is the oldest water storage facility currently in use within the Hunter and was completed in 1926, although the dam provided its first supply of water to the community in 1923.
Before its construction the Hunter relied on water from the Walka Water Works which drew water from the Hunter River near Maitland. Operations at Walka were interrupted by flood and drought, and the water was considered by many to be too 'hard'.
A more reliable source with a greater capacity to store water was required for both a growing population and the industrial development of the region, which included the Sulphide Corporation at Cockle Creek (1896) and the BHP Steel Mill at Port Waratah (1915). In 1915 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works advised the NSW Government that a storage dam be built on the Chichester River. Land was gazetted in 1916 and houses for construction workers were erected at Dusodie.
The workers' health was improved by the provision of a doctor, reticulated water from the Chichester River, hot and cold showers, and a sanitary service. Dwellings were made for families, while single men slept in barracks of about ten beds each. The men erected their own reading room, dance hall and billiards room for Dusodie's one thousand residents. In the hill above the dam site, a terrace was excavated to allow concrete making plants.
A nearby sawmill supplied timber, which was hauled on wooden tramlines, while a quarry supplied stone and gravel. Two steamdriven cableways, each spanning 335-metres across the gorge, delivered concrete and materials to the workforce. Sand was transported from Newcastle in steam-powered Sentinel trucks, while horse-drawn vehicles carried pipes and other materials.
As our oldest dam, Chichester has been extensively upgraded and modified to meet changing demands and ensure safety and reliability of supply. Major works include:
- 1965: spillway lowered by 2.75m to increase flood capacity
- 1985: dam post-tensioned with cables, spillway relocated to centre of the dam wall and returned to original height
- 1995: seepage potential reduced under the northern abutment
- 2003: improved drainage system for foundations installed and the left parapet wall raised to prevent overtopping in major flood.