When the Snowy Hydro Scheme was completed in 1967, it captured 99% of the Snowy River headwaters.
The Expert Panel Environmental Flow Assessment of the Snowy River Below Jindabyne 1996, recommended 28% annual natural flow as the minimum environmental flow required for the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam.
Steve Bracks won government in Victoria in 1999 with a promise to restore 28% to the Snowy River.
Snowy Hydro was corporatised in 2002 with legislation committing the three shareholder governments, NSW, Victoria and the Commonwealth to funding the restoration of 21% of annual natural flow below Jindabyne Dam by 2012. This was to be achieved primarily through investment in water savings infrastructure in the Murray irrigation system to offset the Snowy environmental flows.
So where are we now?
The legislated environmental flow targets for the Snowy River are as follows:
by 2009 the return of 15% (or 142 gigalitres)
by 2012 the return of 21% (or 212 gigalitres)
post 2012 the return of 28% (or 294 gigalitres)
In the 2006/07 Water Year, however, the total planned release to the Snowy River was a mere 4% (or 45.7 Gigalitres)!
The Victorian Government has been unable to provide assurances that the 2009 target will be met.
How confident then can we be that the 2012 target of 21% will be met?
Much less the promise (unfunded and unplanned as yet) that the minimum environmental flow of 28%, post 2012, will be achieved.
NB 1 Gigalitre = 1billion litres= 1,000 megalitres.
Mowamba Aqueduct piped the waters of the Mowamba River, a tributary of the Snowy River, into Jindabyne dam.
On August 28, 2002, this aqueduct was de-commissioned i.e. shut off, to return the first environmental flows to the Snowy.
The Mowamba River once again flowed into the Snowy just below Jindabyne Dam and now provided a surrogate natural headwater to the Snowy, restoring natural flow variation, connectivity for migrating species and increased nutrient and detritus levels necessary for a healthy ecosystem.
It was the understanding of the Snowy communities and the wider Australian public that Mowamba would remain permanently de-commissioned
However, on January 30, 2006, Snowy Hydro Ltd. re-opened Mowamba Aqueduct, effectively cutting off the Snowy from anything resembling a natural headwater.
Snowy Scientific Committee
Under section 57 of the NSW Corporatisation Act (in effect June 28, 2002) the Snowy Scientific Committee was to be established to advise the NSW Water Administration Ministerial Corporation on environmental flows for the Snowy River and other rivers and streams in the Snowy Scheme as well as to undertake research and produce annual public reports.
Five-Year-Review of 75 year Snowy Water Licence.
In May 2007, the first Five-Year-Review of the Snowy Water Licence provisions for Snowy River Increased Flows is due.
The NSW Corporatisation legislation states that this review to be undertaken by the Ministerial Corporation and is to include public submissions and the public exhibition of each State of the Environment Report produced by the Snowy Scientific Committee.
The Five-year Review must be delayed until such time as the Snowy Scientific Committee is established and has undertaken long-term analysis of the data, and there has been opportunity for robust public discussion and submissions.
Howard’s $10 billion dollar National Plan for Water Security
Makes no mention of the Snowy River yet the restoration of (legislated) environmental flows to the Snowy is inextricably linked with the Murray-Darling system. The Snowy River environmental flows must be offset by audited waters savings, made in the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Murray-Goulbourn River irrigation systems.
No clarification has yet been received as to the impact of Howard’s proposed plan on the Snowy.
In conclusion the story of the Snowy River since corporatisation has been one of misinformation, obfuscation, broken promises and non-compliance with the legislation.
It is time that the three shareholder governments of Snowy Hydro Ltd. acted to restore environmental flows to the Snowy River with the fully independent support and scientific advice of the Snowy Scientific Committee as was legislated.
Anything less will destroy the last shred of credibility the governments have in regard to the Snowy River and the management of Australia’s water resources in general.