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More flows planned for Snowy but drought taking its toll on how much

Ian Campbell 13 March 2019
Snowy Pinch Falls. Photo: NSW Dept of Industry.

Snowy Pinch Falls. Photo: NSW Dept of Industry.

The new Snowy Advisory Committee (SAC) has delivered its first report to the NSW Government and is supporting high flow events during winter and spring this year, along with a bigger water release to help flush the river system in October.

The Committee was formed last year to deliver independent, expert and community-based advice on environmental water flows into the Snowy River system, its first duty was to consider strategies for 2019-2020.

Rachel Connell, Executive Director, Department of Industry-Water, says “That advice will help ensure that one of Australia’s most picturesque mountain rivers continues to flow, benefitting the community, our tourism and other industries and the natural environment in the high country.”

The eight-member Committee was formed in mid-2018 to guide the NSW Government’s management of water flows out of the Snowy Hydro Scheme and into the Snowy River catchment and several Montane rivers within Kosciuszko National Park.

Chaired by the honorary ANU Associate Professor Terry Bailey, the Committee is made up of local community, environmental, Aboriginal and representatives from the NSW and Victorian Governments.

Ms Connell says due to the drought there will be less water available than in recent years for environmental flows, however, the pattern of water released during these flow events will still achieve positive environmental outcomes for the Snowy and Montane Rivers.

“Regular flushing helps deliver better environmental outcomes within the Snowy River, with positive effects throughout the ecosystem that relies on the Snowy.

“This advice forms the basis of instructions to Snowy Hydro for environmental releases to be made under its annual water operating plan for 2019-20,” Ms Connell says.

Water gushing from Jindabyne Dam. Photo: NSW Water.

Water gushing from Jindabyne Dam and into to the Snowy system. Photo: NSW Water.

While pleased with the progress,  Elena Guarracino, Chair of the lobby group Snowy River Alliance, says the group is disappointed at the lack of transparency and community consultation in developing the 2019-2020 water plan.

“It is good to finally get some advice, and a better understanding of how the SAC is operating and decisions being made, but all we have is a summary and as a stakeholder, the Alliance has made several attempts to get more information from the SAC,” Ms Guarracino says.

“We would like more detail of its deliberations and processes, and to have this information provided after each SAC meeting.

“We would like to know to know the scientific justification for yet another year of reduced environmental water being released down the Snowy.”

Ms Guarracino says $425 million has been spent so far on returning about 15% of ‘real water’ to the Snowy.

“Perhaps this is not within the scope of the SAC, but clearly with drought and the effects of climate change a different approach is needed to provide the environmental water that is needed for a healthy river.

“Scientists and governments agreed to a 28% flow and this was legislated to occur from 2012. No steps have been taken by government to achieve this.

“The last two years the river has received about 12%,” Ms Guarracino despairs.

Chair of the SAC, Professor Bailey has thanked the committee for their work, saying while their advice seeks the best outcome for the environment, they are developing an advice framework that will pursue social and economic benefits where they are compatible with achieving environmental outcomes.

“Importantly, we are also considering how to be more inclusive of Aboriginal culture and heritage,” he says.

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