BEST OF 2022: Now the water’s going down, let's talk about Lake Jindabyne's foreshore

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Lake Jindabyne foreshore.

The Lake Jindabyne foreshore. Photo: Steve Osborne.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Steve Osborne argues it’s time to plan for the future of Lake Jindabyne’s much-loved foreshores.

Now the waters of Lake Jindabyne are receding, it is becoming clear to us all what happens when the lake is kept at high levels for a long period of time.

The foreshores, dubbed the “jewel in the crown”, are now shabby, sometimes destroyed, and may be permanently damaged.

The shared trails around the foreshore, where they were inundated, are now often dangerous, unusable or have disappeared.

The businesses around the foreshore, largely accommodation, are struggling to offer space to visitors, and those who offer bike or sailing hire will be wondering whether they can carry on.

The recreation and picnic areas, playgrounds, fitness spots, traffic barriers and garbage collection bins are now a mess, covered in mud and debris. Our one formal public space, Banjo Paterson Park, is now a muddy wasteland surrounded by dying trees.

The banks of the lake, especially those facing north-west, have been subject to wave and wind damage and some areas are too dangerous to visit.

This is a gloomy picture to wake up to. There is much to be done to reclaim our foreshores, and we have to turn our attention to a plan for the future.

Who actually is responsible for the work that has to be done?

Snowy Hydro has always taken the position of “I told you so”, saying that the 100 per cent line was well known and anyone who involved themselves in infrastructure or activities below that line had only themselves to blame.

In reality, this attitude may well have been relevant in the early days, but it now no longer holds credibility. When the lake started to fill, Jindabyne was a tiny place, almost a dependant serf on the mighty Snowy Scheme.

Times have changed.

Jindabyne has grown in its own right, as a home for thousands of people, and a destination for year-round tourists, who come for the snow and the lake. A relationship has grown up between the town and the lake that could not have been foreseen by the Snowy engineers.

Snowy Hydro has also changed. It has tried, and to a large extent succeeded, to close up with the community: “The communities in which we operate in the mountains remain critical to our success,” say its publicists. It is a major sponsor of community events, and has an active and positive place in the life of the area.

They have maintained the lake levels only twice at more than 92 per cent. The rest of the time, the levels have averaged 60-80 per cent, and they have not run out of water for irrigation or power generation.

The level of the lake has only reached 98 per cent once before, in 2012, and while it peaked at 100 per cent on 5 March, Snowy Hydro managed releases to bring the level below 90 per cent in two weeks. This was largely due to a release below the dam. During that time, Banjo Paterson Park was inundated, as were the foreshores around the Horizons resort and the Claypits. It was a novelty for Jindabyne, but during the high-water time there were some high winds and waves, and considerable damage was done to the lake banks, which were repaired over two years with sloping rock walls protecting the banks.

The lake was above 98 per cent between December 2021 and June 2022, much longer than the previous inundation.

A solution to the problem would be for Snowy Hydro to redefine the 100 per cent level: that is, when the lake is full and water has to be released.

If the new “Full Level” was at the current 92 per cent, then the foreshores will never be inundated again. The levels will obviously fall below that for many months and we will have the huge beaches and the accompanying dust storms, but the foreshores, infrastructure and public enjoyment of the area won’t be affected. And there won’t be the clean-up and restoration costs involved.

And so the questions remain: Who will be responsible for the repairs necessary now? Will Snowy Hydro accept the benefits of redefining the “Full Level” and seeing that their relationship with the town can only be enhanced, and demonstrate that they see this relationship as evolving and growing?

Snowy Monaro Regional Council has a huge role to play in this. Its Land and Property Project states:

“Demonstrate elevated engagement with Snowy Hydro with the aim of securing positive outcomes to foreshore space engagement.”

So, maybe the two organisations will get together and secure a “positive outcome” for Jindabyne.

Steve Osborne has worked and lived in the mountains for 28 years. As a Jindabyne resident, he’s an active user of the lake and its foreshores.

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Kerry Mcgaw
It’s great to see that Steve has started a conversation about the state of the lake foreshore.
I’m a regular user of the lake and foreshore and find the condition of the whole set up from the Dam wall and foreshore in an amazingly poor condition.
Jindabyne is a unique and beautiful town and its permanent residents have so much to be proud of here and yet the big corporation’s and government agency’s in the area don’t really want to add to the Jindabyne experience. They are more than happy to take and use what is on offer but then NOT make any real effort to help in the maintenance of the Town.
Steves idea of reducing the lakes high level is a great common sense plan and is really a cost effective way to maintain the outer edges and infrastructure of the lake.

As you say, the lake has only been maintained above the 92% twice so clearly Snowy Hydro can be financially sustainable without exceeding this limit. And in the current situation if water had been released leading up to this figure there might have been more chance of the level being kept at a less destructive level (ie less than 100% or even the 102% it rose to on occasions) without impacting on downstream properties.

As Snowy Hydro is now completely owned by the Australian government, as citizens it is within our capacity to insist that this good sense be implemented.

Robbie & Gail O'brien8:58 am 05 Jul 22

We agree with all you have written and thank you so much for your knowledge of our lake and foreshore.
Robbie and Gail

when all this started, it was SMA that had control. The locals, under the guidance of the lions club, wanted to see the town progress, so tried to put forward various projects to boost tourism & make the town more friendly. They tried to install parking up above town for the lookout at the “unnamed” trig point but were unsuccessful due to a veto by the RTA. (subsequently the gate there was kept locked, not for MTB’s?). Then these community minded
residents turned their attention to the lake foreshore &, after difficulties with Berridale council and legal challenges etc. etc. they got co-operation from the “owner”, the SMA. SMA set the level for the path at “Full Operational Level” (FOL), except for one place beyond the sailing club where the land was not in SRSC’s lease at that time & it was accepted that this section would “OCCASIONALLY” be underwater. The path was built to a design speed of 8-12KMH with a max of 15KMH, as was the sort of bike in use at the time. (Family orientated!). So technology & now Snowy Hydro have made the problem even greater as “bikes” now are far more capable of speed in corners or on rough terrain. Snowy Hydro fails to understand that this dam is a tourist drawcard, especially during releases, but no access is planned for. Snowy Hydro says it will engage with communities? They still have not installed shaded seating at the dam for tourists, nor have they put in interpretive signage as at all other dams. Council has not helped either, there was supposed to be a “Shared Trail” from town to Tyrolean to allow tourists to walk or ride easily and safely to these destinations but they installed MTB trails instead that most of our tourists cannot cope with. Two way singletrack is not a green shared trail.Until both council & Snowy Hydro realise Jindabyne is beyond it’s capacity as far as infrastructure is concerned, we will get nowhere, sadly. It was a concerted effort by “ordinary” locals that started the Go Jindy process, unfortunately this is now a SAP only seemingly concerned with $’s and not community. Note that SAP concentrates on “Precincts” and has left out most of the township that is crying out for footpaths and accessible passive recreation spaces.

Steve Osborne9:43 pm 14 Jul 22

Bill, I found your response very interesting, right down to the SAP, about which I agree! When Go Jindabyne was launched, it seemed to me that there was a real chance, but the process was seized by politicians, developers and money and it seems we will not get most things we thought of. I note that on the most recent SAP drawings, the HWL is marked in and effectively rules out any foreshore work! The summer has been quite sad in Jindy around the water – the foreshores are a muddy, destroyed mess. I’m trying to present to Council in the Public Forum on 21 July!

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