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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Snowy River

What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?

What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?

Australia is still (sadly) stuck in a culture war over whether climate change is real. While the majority of Australians accept the fact, a significant number of political leaders are using their position to block meaningful action. This has immobilised any forward movement on developing a coherent national energy policy. If anything, the standoff between the conservatives and climate deniers on the one hand, who support more coal and gas, invoking the catch cry of energy security and reliability of supply, and those who heed climate science and understand the need to transition rapidly to renewable energy, is getting worse.

Thankfully technology is intervening to change the dynamics of the argument. The rapid development of storage technology is clearly a game changer when it comes to considering what is possible in terms of powering our nation. Domestic and commercial scale batteries and electric cars are two obvious points where the debate is changing. So is the prospect of pumped storage hydroelectricity, where a two way system is developed so water can be run through a hydro system to produce electricity, and retained below the point of generation, then pumped back up into the storage point (usually a dam) when electricity is very cheap.

As the federal government grapples with pumped hydro storage options it is becoming ever clearer that there are many places where such schemes could be established (It is estimated that there are more than 22,000 suitable locations right around Australia). But there are also plans to re-purpose the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme to be able to re-use water by creating a second pipeline system to pump water back into the storages. This is being referred to as Snowy Hydro 2.0.

On face value this seems to be a sensible option for getting more clean energy production out of the existing infrastructure. However there are obvious and very considerable environmental issues that need to be considered before the upgrade proceeds. The initial feasibility study (which is still underway) has already identified the major question of what to do with the spoil from the massive drilling operation that would be required to make the project viable. It will need 27 kilometres of tunnels, which may be up to 12.5 metes wide, and from the report below, it is clear that, at this point, the authorities have no idea where they would dump all the rock waste that would come from drilling the tunnels. It should go without saying that the Snowy scheme is within the Snowy Mountains National Park and so the waste will need to be taken outside the park.

Continue reading “What are the environmental costs of Snowy Hydro 2.0?”

Fears over Snowy River’s health without independent monitor

The Snowy Mountains scheme, built between 1949 and 1974, diverts the water of the Snowy River and some of its tributaries, much of which originally flowed southeast onto the river flats of East Gippsland, inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers irrigation areas. This has caused the health of the Snowy to decline dramatically.

Following long running campaigns, the Snowy Water Inquiry was established in January 1998. The Inquiry recommended an increase to 15% of natural flows. In 2000, Victoria and NSW agreed to a long-term target of 28%, requiring A$375 million of investment to offset losses to inland irrigators. It has been hoped that this increase in flow will help the health of the river system improve.

However there have been ongoing fears that the flows are not being properly managed in a way that will maximise environmental benefits. In 2013, the NSW Government abolished the Snowy’s scientific monitor and a replacement body, announced in 2014, has not yet been established. As pointed out recently by ecologists, without an independent monitor, there is a risk that the health of the river will go backwards.

Continue reading “Fears over Snowy River’s health without independent monitor”

The Snowy River Extreme Race

The Snowy River Extreme Race is a whitewater event held on the iconic Snowy River in Kosciuszko National Park. The Event takes place on the October long weekend and consists of two races; an Expert race, and an Intermediate race. Both races take place on the stretch of whitewater between Munyang power station and Island Bend campground.

The 2017 race will be held this Sunday the 1st of October.

Expert Race:

The Expert race is a pairs time trial on a Class III- IV stretch of whitewater. The Expert race starts below the can-opener rapid and finishes at the rafters track. The expert race is approximately 2km.

Intermediate Race:

The intermediate race is a pairs time trial on a grade III stretch of whitewater. The Intermediate race starts at the rafters track and finishes at the flying fox cable. The intermediate race is approximately 1.7km.

Packraft and Inflatable Kayak Race:

This race is a pairs time trial race using whitewater appropriate packrafts or Inflatable kayaks. The race will take place on the same section as the Intermediate race.

You can find out more and register here.

The Snowy Hydro Scheme 2.0

The Federal Government’s announcement of a feasibility study into the expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme in NSW could potentially break the current impass in the fossil fuels vs renewables energy debate.

Pumped hydro represents stored energy, which can be created through the use of renewables. It is a ‘game changer’ in that it can, in effect, provide baseload power for when renewable energy supplies like wind and solar need back up. This will be done through what is called Pumped Hydro.

Continue reading “The Snowy Hydro Scheme 2.0”

Feral cattle cull in Snowy River National Park

Having seen cattle within various sections of the Alpine National Park over the years I have wondered whether they are cattle that have not been collected when herds have been removed, or whether its been illegal grazing. The comments in this story from Kath Sullivan in The Weekly Times are interesting. A farmer says of cattle found within a national park “I can’t lay claim to them because they’re not earmarked, but I can claim an interest in them”.

SHOOTERS will be choppered into the Snowy River National Park, in East Gippsland, to destroy feral cattle.

Parks Victoria district manager Will McCutcheon said 10 cattle remained in the park.Parks Victoria had recent success with helicopters used to locate the cattle and drop skilled shooters into remote, rugged sites, where access has been an issue,” he said. “With another helicopter operation we hope to remove the last of the cattle over the next few weeks.”

Gordon Moon, a farmer at Black Mountain in East Gippsland, was “devastated” to learn of the cull. His family owned a cattle-grazing lease in the park before cattle grazing in national parks was banned. When asked if the cattle could be his, Mr Moon said: “I can’t lay claim to them because they’re not earmarked, but I can claim an interest in them.

I’d think it’d be costing squillions to cull them.”

Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Phil Ingamells said: “They (cattle) are not meant to be there.”

Public gets first look at Alps plan

The following comes from the Victorian National Parks Association’s Phil Ingamells.

It’s been six years in preparation, but the Greater Alpine National Parks Draft Management Plan has at last been released for public comment.

Covering five national parks (Alpine, Baw Baw, Errinundra, Mount Buffalo and Snowy River), as well as the Avon Wilderness Park and six smaller parks and historic reserves, this single management plan deals with nearly one-third of Victoria’s park estate.

Not surprisingly, there is little detail in such a broadscale document – but there are some quite specific proposals, such as the current alpine grazing trial. Roofed ‘retreat style accommodation’ is flagged for Mount Buffalo National Park.

Unfortunately the integrity of the draft plan has been marred by the oddly configured Alpine Advisory Committee, required by law to advise on the plan. The committee was appointed without its full quota of environmental advisors, yet has a majority of mountain cattlemen members and supporters.

The 40 maps available online may be difficult to download, but hard copies can be bought from Parks Victoria for $10, phone 13 1963.

Alternatively, you can view the plan and maps at the VNPA office, just call ahead on 03 9347 5188.

We will outline our response to the plan within a few weeks to help anyone making a submission. Comments on the draft are due by Monday 25 August.

Check the VNPA website for additional information.

NSW Government to remove independent Snowy Scientific Committee?

The Snowy River, in Kosciusko National Park looking downstream from Island Bend Dam
The Snowy River, in Kosciusko National Park looking downstream from Island Bend Dam

The NSW Government’s Bill to amend the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act and replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee under the control and direction of Katrina Hodgkinson (NSW Minister for Primary Industries) passed the Lower House last week.

Check here for some background.

One of the key benefits of the current Committee is that it was “firmly independent of government” as Ms Hodgkinson puts it (ie, doesn’t tow a government line).

According to a report in the SMH:

Scientists, including former members of the six-member scientific committee, said the separation from powerful interests such as the giant Snowy Hydro Ltd gave the panel a critical watchdog role that is likely to be lost. Irrigators, Snowy Hydro and government officials from NSW and Victoria are likely to hold sway, they say.

Independence is “the way scientists give you the best advice”, said Sam Lake, an aquatic expert from Monash University, who served on the committee.

It is set to pass the Upper House Tuesday 25th March unless the Shooters and Christian Democrats change their mind and vote against it.

An independent Snowy Scientific Committee is vital for the restoration of the Snowy River and all other rivers affected by the Snowy scheme.

take action

If you value the Snowy, please write to the Christian Democrats and Shooters and Fishers policy managers, urging them to oppose the government’s Bill.

A quick email is sufficient.

Possible text:

(cut and paste, make any changes you want, add your name and address and email to the two emails below).

Dear Paul and Robert

Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act

I write to you to express my concerns about the NSW Government’s Bill which will amend the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act and replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee under the control and direction of Katrina Hodgkinson.

I believe it is essential that the panel continue to be composed of independent, appropriately skilled people. If the proposed changes in the Bill are passed, a critical watchdog role is likely to be lost. Irrigators, Snowy Hydro and government officials from NSW and Victoria are likely to hold sway, rather than scientists.

Having the ability to get independent advice is the best way for government to make sound, long term decisions about the Snowy River. An independent Snowy Scientific Committee is vital for the restoration of the Snowy River and all other rivers affected by the Snowy scheme.

I urge you to vote against the proposed amendments to the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act.

Yours sincerely,

Send to:

Paul.Green@parliament.nsw.gov.au  for the Christian Democrats

robert.despotoski@parliament.nsw.gov.au for the Shooters and Fishers Party

or alternatively contact the Minister directly:

Katrina Hodgkinson: office@hodgkinson.minister.nsw.gov.au or call her office on (02) 9228 5210.

Lessons to learn from the Snowy

The following opinion piece comes from the Weekly Times.

Snowy River in Kosciusko National Park

GOVERNMENTS have failed the mighty river, writes LOUISE CRISP

The big spring releases from Jindabyne Dam into the Snowy River will capture the media’s attention this week.

Snowy Hydro Ltd will allow up to 84 gigalitres to flow down the Snowy River during the next two weeks.

Although they are much reduced, the spring releases are intended to mimic the huge spring snowmelt flows the Snowy was named for.

Most people now believe the Snowy has been saved.

When Jindabyne Dam was completed in 1967, the Snowy River had 99 per cent of its headwaters captured and diverted west to the Murray-Darling Basin for electricity generation and irrigation, resulting in severe degradation of the Snowy and considerable economic loss to the downstream communities.

In 1996, an expert panel scientific report identified that a healthy river needed the equivalent of 28 per cent annual natural flow below Jindabyne.

Ten years ago, the Victorian, NSW and Commonwealth governments signed agreements and legislation to fund a 10-year plan to return environmental flows to the Snowy.

The three shareholder governments of Snowy Hydro Ltd were committed to providing $375 million to Water for Rivers for savings in the Murray and Murrumbidgee systems to off-set increased flows by 2012 to:

THE Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam – up to 21 per cent of annual natural flow.

SNOWY montane rivers – up to 118 gigalitres a year.

SEVENTY gigalitres a year to the Murray.

The three governments also agreed to return up to 28 per cent to the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam post-2012.

The legislation also required the NSW Government to establish an independent Snowy Scientific Committee to provide advice on the best environmental flow release regime and produce annual state-of-environment reports on the rivers affected by the Snowy scheme.

So where are we 10 years later?

In November 2010 and October last year, large spring flows were released into the Snowy River below Jindabyne from water savings obtained by Water for Rivers.

While the Snowy has seen some good flows this year, it is far from saved.

The annual allocation to the Snowy below Jindabyne this water year (beginning May 1) is only about 15 per cent of the annual natural flow, and half the required minimum environmental flow identified by scientists in 1996. Releases below Jindabyne are unlikely to be much more than 15 per cent, as half the water acquired by Water for Rivers is general security or low reliability.

These entitlements would only deliver much real water to the river in exceptionally wet years.

The upper Snowy River in Kosciuszko National Park was scheduled to receive increased flows from 2007-08 (below Guthega Dam) and from 2009-10 (below Island Bend Dam). However, these sections of the Snowy have not received environmental flows.

For months the Snowy River in Kosciuszko National Park remains a dry stony riverbed.

In addition, the main eastern tributary, the Eucumbene River, and many other tributaries were not included in the original Snowy legislation and will not receive environmental flows.

Snowy Hydro Ltd has made one release to the Murray in 2005-06 of 38 gigalitres.

There is now 230 gigalitres of taxpayer-funded water savings owed the Murray River held by Snowy Hydro Ltd in Snowy Scheme storages. Nevertheless, the Murray Darling Basin Authority has included it in baseline modelling for the proposed Basin plan.

The 2002 legislation also required NSW to establish the independent Snowy Scientific Committee but it was delayed until 2008.

The committee produced a series of invaluable public reports on the adequacy of flows to the Snowy and the upper Murrumbidgee.

The committee’s term expired on May 15 last year and despite commitments from the three relevant NSW ministers, it has still not been re-established.

The 10-year plan to restore the Snowy is a simpler and smaller version of the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The failure of governments therefore, to deliver the environmental outcomes for the Snowy, does not bode well for the future of the Murray.

    Louise Crisp is vice chairwoman of the Snowy River Alliance

Check here for a you-tube video on the upper Snowy river.

Snowy River environmental flows

The Weekly Times is running with the story on getting environmental flows back into the Snowy River:

crossing the headwaters of the Snowy

“The greatest hurdle to reviving the Snowy River’s flows could be removed for little more than $3.3 million.

That’s the estimated cost of extinguishing a 56,000-megalitre water debt that must be repaid before the iconic river’s flows can be raised above a trickle this spring.

If the debt is not repaid the Snowy River will once again be capped at 4 per cent of its natural flow in 2010-11, almost 10 years after the inter-government deal was struck to rescue the river.

East Gippsland Independent MP Craig Ingram, who put Labor into power on the back of its promise to revive the Snowy’s flows, said it was time to extinguish the debt and boost this spring’s flows”.

Your can find the Times story here.

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