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The Snowy River originates on the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko. It drains the eastern slopes of the Snowy Mountains in NSW before flowing through the Snowy River National Park in Victoria and into Bass Strait.

The Snowy River and its tributaries continue to be an important place for Traditional Owners and their Nations. This includes the Gunaikurnai, the Maneroo-Ngarigo, the Bidwell Maap, the southern Monero people (Monero-Ngarigo / Yuin / Bolga), the Wongalu and the Wiradjuri people.

In recognition of Traditional Owner groups, five highflow releases to the Snowy River in 2017–18 were given Aboriginal names: Djuran (running water), Waawii (water spirit), Billa bidgee kaap (big water season), Wai-garl (river blackfish) and Bundrea Nooruun Bundbararn (waterhole big lizard).

System map

Snowy System SWP
Grey river reaches have been included for context. The numbered reaches indicate where relevant environmental flow studies have been undertaken. Coloured reaches can receive environmental water.

Environmental values

Construction and operation of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme previously diverted 99 percent of the Snowy River's mean annual natural flow at Jindabyne. The loss of flow changed the structure and function of the river, reduced the opening of the Snowy River entrance to Bass Strait and resulted in a decline in environmental values.

The remaining environmental values in the upper reaches and tributaries of the Snowy River include freshwater fish (such as river blackfish and Australian grayling). The lower reaches support estuary perch and Australian bass that move between saltwater and freshwater systems. The estuary contains estuarine and saltwater species such as flathead, mulloway and black bream. The floodplain wetlands of the Snowy River near Marlo provide feeding and breeding areas for wetland and migratory birds.

Social and economic values

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme provides substantial economic value as a major generator of renewable electricity. Water diverted from the Snowy River also supports irrigated agriculture in NSW and Victorian parts of the Murray–Darling Basin. The Snowy River and its estuary are a drawcard for the many tourists who enjoy camping, boating, kayaking, swimming and recreational fishing.

Conditions 2018

The water year in the Snowy system runs from May to April. In the 2017–18 water year, 214,400 ML of water for the environment was released to the Snowy River, which is the largest volume of water ever released from Lake Jindabyne to the Snowy River in one year. The water for the environment was used to deliver five, high-flow events, with peak flows up to 8,000 ML per day in winter and spring.

Scope of environmental watering

Environmental watering from May 2018 to April 2019 aims to mimic the typical flow pattern of a mixed snowmelt/ rainfall river system characteristic of the Snowy Mountains. The releases aim to support ecological processes in the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam and maintain a healthy river that is much smaller than the natural channel that existed before the river was regulated. 

The aim of environmental flows in the Snowy River is to restore physical and ecological processes that support aquatic habitats and productivity. East Gippsland CMA has monitored the lower reaches and estuary over the past six years. The results show that the managed environmental flows contribute to these physical and ecological outcomes.

Five peak flows are scheduled between August and October 2018. A large, flushing flow is scheduled for midOctober 2018 and includes an eight-hour peak equivalent to 4,800 ML per day. Other peak flows will mimic winter rainfall events. These peak flows aim to improve the physical attributes of the river by scouring and depositing sediment and increasing available aquatic habitat. High flows are sustained from July–December to help mix water in the estuary for the benefit of plants and fish (such as Australian bass). Low flows will then be released until the end of the water year in April 2019.

The total volume planned for release in 2018–19 (including contributions from water savings in Victoria and NSW) is 136,677 ML.

Engagement

The NSW Government is responsible for planning environmental flow releases in the Snowy River and consults the Victorian Government about the planned releases.

In 2018, the Snowy Advisory Committee will be formed. Its members will represent Aboriginal, local community and environmental interests, alongside relevant NSW and Victorian government agencies. The role of the Snowy Advisory Committee will be to provide community and expert input about the pattern of environmental flow releases to the Snowy River and Snowy montane rivers, to ensure their ongoing health.