News | 19th Sep, 2012

Lessons to learn from Snowy

19 September 2012
Louise Crisp, Weekly Times Now

The big spring releases from Jindabyne Dam into the Snowy River will capture the media's attention this week.

Snowy Hydro Ltd will allow up to 84 gigalitres to flow down the Snowy River during the next two weeks.

Although they are much reduced, the spring releases are intended to mimic the huge spring snowmelt flows the Snowy was named for.

Most people now believe the Snowy has been saved.

When Jindabyne Dam was completed in 1967, the Snowy River had 99 per cent of its headwaters captured and diverted west to the Murray-Darling Basin for electricity generation and irrigation, resulting in severe degradation of the Snowy and considerable economic loss to the downstream communities.

In 1996, an expert panel scientific report identified that a healthy river needed the equivalent of 28 per cent annual natural flow below Jindabyne.

Ten years ago, the Victorian, NSW and Commonwealth governments signed agreements and legislation to fund a 10-year plan to return environmental flows to the Snowy.

The three shareholder governments of Snowy Hydro Ltd were committed to providing $375 million to Water for Rivers for savings in the Murray and Murrumbidgee systems to off-set increased flows by 2012 to:

THE Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam – up to 21 per cent of annual natural flow.

SNOWY montane rivers – up to 118 gigalitres a year.

SEVENTY gigalitres a year to the Murray.

The three governments also agreed to return up to 28 per cent to the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam post-2012.

The legislation also required the NSW Government to establish an independent Snowy Scientific Committee to provide advice on the best environmental flow release regime and produce annual state-of-environment reports on the rivers affected by the Snowy scheme.

So where are we 10 years later?

In November 2010 and October last year, large spring flows were released into the Snowy River below Jindabyne from water savings obtained by Water for Rivers.

While the Snowy has seen some good flows this year, it is far from saved.

The annual allocation to the Snowy below Jindabyne this water year (beginning May 1) is only about 15 per cent of the annual natural flow, and half the required minimum environmental flow identified by scientists in 1996. Releases below Jindabyne are unlikely to be much more than 15 per cent, as half the water acquired by Water for Rivers is general security or low reliability.

These entitlements would only deliver much real water to the river in exceptionally wet years.

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