SNOWY RIVER STILL IN JEOPARDY – March 2017

Despite years of effort and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent to save the iconic Snowy River we still have unreliable flows, and now no-one to monitor what is actually happening. The Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC) originally provided independent oversight – it was disbanded by the NSW Government in 2014 because it was critical of their efforts.

Before abandoning the SSC, the NSW Government promised to create a new Snowy Advisory Committee to replace it and provide additional community input – this has still not happened after 3 more years.

In the absence of any committee the Snowy Water Initiative has been managed by staff of the NSW DPI for the past 17 years. Last week (24th March 2017) the DPI management advised the remaining scientific and cultural staff that they were redundant. So as far as the NSW DPI is concerned nobody should be managing the river and no ongoing science is needed.

With all the money that’s been spent, notionally to return 21% of the original flow back to the river, and now there is nobody with a scientific background to monitor the responses and manage the process.

This is gross negligence by the NSW Government, who in a letter from the Minister Hon Niall Blair to the Deputy Premier (Hon John Barilaro) in December 2016, advised categorically that the staff of the Snowy Water Initiative (SWI)  team would be transferred from his ministry to that of Minister for Environment and Heritage (Hon Gabrielle Upton). It is now clear that this is not going to happen.

Every year since the increased flows commenced in 2002, the response of the river environment has been monitored and evaluated. Each year the timing and magnitude of the flows has been varied to change the impacts and achieve particular objectives. Scientific papers have been written and published, which is all part of the important process required to optimise the returns on the water put back into the river.

One could almost be excused for thinking its a conspiracy to remove anybody who knows how the river system should function, in order that the Snowy River additional flows could be removed.

Is Snowy 2.0 (the new pumped storage hydro scheme) now going to be used as an excuse to claim the water recovered from the irrigated catchments for the SWI and use it to top up the new hydro generators?  Who knows. The local communities from Dalgety to Orbost cannot help but be cynical about the motives of our elected representatives.

An increased flow of 21% of the original river was legislated to be in place by 2012. 5 years later and typically all that is received is 14%. DPI water have stated that in 2017 21% will be released, but that is on the back of a very wet 2016 when all NSW catchments received their full allocations. The 2017 release is based on 2016 rainfall and its record wet winter. If 2017 is a drier or average year (highly likely), then flows will be back down to 14% in 2018.

All this is way short of the original target of 28% which was supposed to be delivered by now, but which can never happen. This was the figure nominated in the original Commission of Inquiry as the minimum necessary to improve the downstream river environment.

Write or email your local member and complain that the Snowy again is being ignored or worse, and they must ensure the existing scientific and cultural staff remain in NSW Government employment looking after the health of the river.