The appointment of Federal Member Dr Mike Kelly to the key position of Parliamentary Secretary for Water is a good sign for the Snowy River and regional water management.
Fish are dying at the mouth of the Snowy River and fish are also dying in the ana-branches of the Murray River, similarly starved by drought, over-extraction, human indifference and greed.
The evolution of “water trading”, the development of a “water market” and moves towards water privatisation have wreaked havoc in the agricultural sector and have escalated the collapse of vital ecosystems. The acid sulphate soils of the Coorong are a direct result of human toxic wastes and interference with natural river flows - even during the course of ultra dry sequences. The death of the Snowy with weed and willow infestation, siltation and truncated flows is the result of human behaviour, not nature.
It is time to resuscitate the Snowy River. The legislation is in place, the specific conditions of the Snowy Water Licence are in place and the community wants water in the Snowy River. It is simply a matter of three governments following the law and letting water flow from the top to the bottom of the river.
In the beginning the Snowy Corporatisation Act hinged on the Snowy Water Inquiry - otherwise known as the Webster Inquiry - and the subsequent Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed (SWIOID), which clearly sets out the key environmental outcomes upon which the legislation and Snowy Water Licence are based.
The Snowy Water Licence in turn provides for staged environmental releases up to 21 per cent of average natural flows (ANF) and a provision through public-private partnerships to deliver the final 7 per cent to 28 per cent ANF through water savings projects. By all accounts 28 per cent is the very minimum for a river to survive and certainly, the Snowy River in its upper reaches, below Guthega Dam and Island Bend Pondage does not receive 28 per cent ANF. The Snowy Hydro grasps every drop for power generation and milks the alpine tributaries of the Snowy.
Twenty-eight per cent means that 70 per cent of the Snowy River is still diverted out west and at present it is actually about 96 per cent with the 2009 target of 15 per cent ANF for the Snowy yet to be delivered.
Below Jindabyne Dam the Snowy River is sometimes a sorry flow through a hosepipe and at other times, a flat and low flow through a generator that does not operate properly. This generator, at the centre of the “renewable energy” debate because of its poor green credentials, was never a part of the Snowy agreements - simply an afterthought to extract a few more energy dollars for Snowy Hydro Limited, required as it is to return “shareholder dividends” to the three shareholder governments, New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth.
There is a patent need to decorporatise the Snowy Scheme to take the unwanted “profit at all costs” pressure off Snowy Hydro that has seen several attempts to sell, including the latest thinly veiled effort in early March when Snowy Hydro spruiked for funds and an “independent” - read privatised - Snowy on regional ABC Radio.
There is patent need to inject clarity and a clear hierarchy into the Snowy legislation placing the Snowy Water Outcomes Implementation Deed at the pinnacle supported by ongoing scientific study conducted by the Snowy Scientific Committee (SCC), an independent body under the existing Snowy Corporatisation legislation that directs government to act, not vacillate or make perpetual excuses not to follow the law.
Of note is that the NSW Government failed to establish the SCC until it was pressured to do so by the Snowy River Alliance. The NSW Government also failed to instigate the first Five Year Review of the Snowy Water Licence that draws on the recommendations of the SCC Report and allows for amendments to environmental releases without “compensation” payable to Snowy Hydro for lost energy generation dollars. Again, the community brought the then Minister to account to review the Snowy Water Licence. Most recently the NSW Government has sat on the SSC Report “Adequacy of Releases” along with the draft first Five Year Review of the Snowy Water Licence that must include the recommendations of the Committee.
With the Snowy portfolio split three ways with three Ministers, one responsible one for the Snowy Scheme, one for the Snowy Water Licence acting as the “Water Ministerial Administration Corporation” under the legislation and the third for environmental water, it is a complex process for the public and the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments to obtain information from NSW and to act on that information.
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