Politics runs the Snowy River
  |  First Published: October 2011

The Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam is about to get the major flush-out that the environmentalists have been demanding for many years. But at what cost?

The NSW Office of Water will instruct Snowy Hydro to release a proposed 111 gigalitres of water over Spring.

That overall water release out of Jindabyne could see the dam level fall by over 4m and it is expected the Snowy River below Jindabyne to rise by a vertical 4m with an estimated model flood inundation level at Dalgety Bridge up to 3.5m high during the peak of the release.

While no one knows the exact date in October will be, nothing can happen until the Jindabyne Dam spillway concreting works is finished and those aren’t expected to be completed until late September.

The release date being thrown around at the moment is October 6, with water releases gradually increasing until October 10 when up to 12,000 megalitres (4800 olympic swimming pools) of water a day will be released over a period of four days before slowly receding back to 350 megalitres a day by October 25.

That’s a bloody lot of water going out of Jindabyne Dam and down the river but for what reason?

We know the answer is more about politics than it is about the environment, but it depends on who you want to listen to.

Before the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the completion of Jindabyne Dam in 1967, three major rivers joined at the top end of what is now Lake Jindabyne. The Eucumbene River and the Thredbo (Crackenback) River joined the Snowy, which then continued its 500km journey to the sea at Marlo, near Orbost in Victoria.

The old town of Jindabyne experienced some major floods and the 4m rise in the Snowy expected from the release is nothing compared with the 20m or more sometimes seen in days gone by.

So the ‘green’ dreams of ever returning the Snowy to the way it was are just never going to happen!

But there could be a compromise and with the minor flooding of the river in October, it is expected that during the peak flows the water will move larger sediment particles and reshape the inner channel of the Snowy River, thus hopefully bringing a little life back to it.

But again at what cost?

During this release, the level of Lake Jindabyne will drop over just a few days and will produce a muddy foreshore around the lake. There is also a possibility that the trout fishing will suffer for a period and anglers visiting for the Snowy Mountains Trout Festival in early November will head to Lake Eucumbene instead of Jindabyne. So the Jindabyne economy will suffer.

Some will win and some will lose. But it’s now been nearly 45 years since the flows down the Snowy were reduced and I can some major problems with this year’s release.

My memory is not all that good these days but in the late 1970s or early ’80s there was a sudden release of water from Lake Jindabyne’s floodgates and when the debris built up against the Dalgety bridge, it washed away the road on either side. There is a huge possibility this may happen again.

While Bob the brown trout might enjoy the extra flow downstream of Jindabyne, the same can’t be said for Pamela Platypus and her brood of platypups and I am not too sure how Wilma Wombat will feel about all the water down her burrow. Either way, I hope there are a few very environmentalists downstream who will be there to pick up all the homeless and dead animals.

I am not too sure about how the farmers will feel about the costs of repairing their fences, either. NSW Water has clearly stated it will not be responsible for any damage caused by the water release.

I also can’t help but think about all the labour time and money wasted over the past few years restocking the lower Snowy River with bass.

If you think the bass are not going to take advantage of escaping to the coast, think again.

If you think for one minute that this is not another ‘bend-over’ by the Government for the Greens, you also have your head in the clouds.

Beside the total waste of good water, water that may save us should there be another drought, this spectacular flow is just another Government publicity stunt.

If they were serious about ‘saving the Snowy’ they would be also considering the fact that up in that beautiful green Kosciuszko National Park, there is another bit of the Snowy River that is hidden and may be forgotten.

The stretch below Island Bend Pondage and down into Lake Jindabyne, the bit where the Snowy River bed is dry.

The only time it sees any water is when the dam spills over and that is rare.

The rest of the time the Snowy River here is made up of stagnant pools.

The famous Snowy is forgotten up there, where you would think it would be at its prettiest and best.

Politics, that’s all it is, and if the greenies were really serious they would be looking at the whole of the Snowy River, not just the bit where everyone can see what a great job they are doing – or are they?

A lot of people will be looking seriously at the consequences of this planned release and hopefully we can all learn something.

If you want some recovery to the Snowy River, and I mean for the overall length, then we have to look at the natural flows, what comes off the mountain and flows down into Lake Jindabyne over the season and what goes out of Lake Jindabyne.

Get the lake to a reasonably high level, such as the 80%, which it is now, and maintain that level until the water is needed in drought years – and you keep everyone happy.

Jindabyne is a tourist town, relying on the snow in Winter and the lake in Summer. Stuff around with lake levels, as is about to happen, and you stuff with the Summer tourism and then we all suffer. How about a little commonsense and less politics?

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