The Snowy Mountains scheme, built between 1949 and 1974, diverts the water of the Snowy River and some of its tributaries, much of which originally flowed southeast onto the river flats of East Gippsland, inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers irrigation areas. This has caused the health of the Snowy to decline dramatically.
Following long running campaigns, the Snowy Water Inquiry was established in January 1998. The Inquiry recommended an increase to 15% of natural flows. In 2000, Victoria and NSW agreed to a long-term target of 28%, requiring A$375 million of investment to offset losses to inland irrigators. It has been hoped that this increase in flow will help the health of the river system improve.
However there have been ongoing fears that the flows are not being properly managed in a way that will maximise environmental benefits. In 2013, the NSW Government abolished the Snowy’s scientific monitor and a replacement body, announced in 2014, has not yet been established. As pointed out recently by ecologists, without an independent monitor, there is a risk that the health of the river will go backwards.
Fears over Snowy River’s health without independent monitor
By Jake Evans and Elise Pianegonda, writing for the ABC.
About 13,000 megalitres of water will rush into the Snowy River today for its annual environmental flush.
The flow from the Jindabyne Dam has put the river in far better health since they began in 2000, after the river almost stood still.
This flush will be one of the biggest ever for the Snowy.
But environmentalists warn the river is still at risk of regressing to sludge without an independent monitor.
In 2013, the NSW Government abolished the Snowy’s scientific monitor and a replacement body, announced in 2014, has not yet been established.
In a statement, the NSW Department of Industry said it was still discussing the river’s management and would review re-establishing the body once that was completed.
“Meanwhile, environmental water releases, designed to mimic the natural flow characteristics of the river, are continuing,” the statement read.
‘It’s only just got into the recovery room’
Snowy River Alliance chair Vickii Wallace said without an advisory body none of that water is guaranteed.
“The Snowy was on life support for 43 years. It’s only just got into the recovery room,” she said.
“We now are still sitting four years later; we’ve lost the scientific committee and there’s nothing in place [to monitor the river’s health].”
Ms Wallace pointed to the ABC’s Four Corners’ investigation into allegations of water theft and improper pumping in the Murray Darling Basin as justification for her concerns about the New South Wales Government’s management of the river.
“This river has committed so much of its energy and lifeblood to going out west,” she said.