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Snowy Hydro tops up floods with environmental flow

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Tuesday, 1 February 2011


But alas, Ms Urquhart was unable to answer my questions. She did, however, promise to try and find out and emailed me back with a message from her “water delivery manager” that the information I was after could be found in the operating licence between Snowy Hydro and the NSW Office of Water on the NSW Office of Water website.

Well I went there to have a look, but where to start? The licence has a package of agreements, licences and other regulations and the current licence as at May 1, 2010, is only 102 pages long.  I started to read, but it was not easy going and the more I read, the more I doubted that I would recognise the answer even if I stumbled across it, because the document makes so many references to part three of schedule three then part four of schedule four, and in case of shortfall, in case of excess, in case of base passing flow, in this water year versus next dependent on how much water might be in which of the sixteen major dams at any one time.

So I sent some more queries back into internet world and all was finally revealed. A most reliable source and someone who recently attended a meeting with David Harris, the boss of Snowy Hydro, explained that somewhere in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 megalitres of water per day will continue to flow from the Snowy Hydro System, regardless of downstream impacts, because of environmental flow obligations in the Snowy Hydro operating licence.

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Yep! Blowering Dam may be out of control, the water belting out of Burrunjuck, the Central Murray likely to go under again as early as Wednesday, but because of a formal agreement between NSW Office of Water and Snowy Hydro, involving an obligation to South Australia, approximately 500,000 megalitres, equivalent to one Sydney Harbour of water, must be released as soon as possible as environmental flow.

In short, senior bureaucrats have signed off on an agreement, which they are now honouring, which requires environmental flow releases into the already swollen Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Of course these men in suits don’t live in the Murray Darling Basin and they will continue to receive a salary, paid into their Sydney bank accounts, regardless of how many extra wheat fields flood and extra homes are destroyed.

Inconceivable, but true.

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This post was first published at the author's blog Jennifer Marohasy. It is being published as part of our Best Blogs 2010 feature, which is compiled jointly with Club Troppo.



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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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