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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 emptying into Bass Strait.

There are four major dams and multiple diversion weirs in the upper Snowy River catchment that divert water to the Murrumbidgee and River Murray valleys. Downstream, the hydrological effects of the Snowy Scheme are substantial, but are partly alleviated by the contribution of flows from tributaries (such as the Delegate River in NSW and the Buchan River in Victoria).

The Victorian, NSW and Commonwealth governments have recovered water to help restore damage done by decades of limited flow. Victorian environmental water available for use in the Snowy system is held in the Murray, Goulburn and Loddon systems. This water is made available for environmental flows in the Snowy River via a substitution method, whereby Victorian environmental water replaces water that was earmarked for transfer from the Snowy to Victoria to support irrigation needs.

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 has previously diverted 99 percent of the Snowy River's mean annual natural flow at Jindabyne, which has caused changes to 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.

Despite the reduction in flows, the Snowy River supports many environmental values. The upper reaches and tributaries of the Snowy River contain freshwater species such as river blackfish and Australian grayling). The lower reaches support species such as 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, cultural and economic values

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme provides substantial economic value as a major generator of renewable electricity, and Snowy water supports irrigated agriculture in NSW and Victoria. The Snowy River and its estuary are a drawcard for the many tourists who enjoy camping, boating, swimming and recreational fishing.

The waterways of the Snowy system including the Snowy River hold significance for Traditional Owners in the region include the Monaro-Ngarigo, Bidwell Maap, Southern Monaro (Monaro-Ngarigo / Yuin / Bolga), Wongalu and Wiradjuri peoples. In recognition of the Traditional Owners, five high-flow releases in 2017–18 have been named:

  • Djuran (running water)
  • Waawii (water spirit)
  • Billa Bidgee Kaap (big water season)
  • Wai–Garl (river blackfish)
  • Bundrea Nooruun Bundbararn (waterhole big lizard).

The Snowy River is also an iconic and culturally significant Australian river made famous by Banjo Patterson's poem The Man from Snowy River.

Conditions mid-2017

In the 2016–17 water year, 132,300 ML of environmental water was released to the Snowy River. Two east-coast lowpressure systems in June and July 2016 brought substantial rainfall to the Snowy River catchment and both events coincided with planned high-flow environmental releases. Both releases were rescheduled to avoid increasing floods in Victoria. The undelivered environmental water was accrued and used for a high-flow event in early summer.

In combination there were six high-flow events that delivered over 54,000 ML to the Snowy River in winter, spring and early summer. These flows helped maintain the opening of the Snowy River estuary at Marlo and reduce salinity in the upper reaches of the estuary.

Scope of environmental watering

Environmental water releases from May 2017 to April 2018 aim 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 before river regulation.

The planned environmental flows do not have direct biodiversity objectives. Their main aim is to restore physical and ecological processes that support aquatic habitats, productivity, dispersal, reproduction and recruitment. It is assumed that these processes will contribute to biodiversity outcomes in the years ahead.

Five peak flows are scheduled in winter/spring 2017. A large, flushing flow is scheduled for early October 2017 and includes an eight-hour peak, equivalent to 13,000 ML/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 limiting the growth of riparian plants within the channel.

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 2018.

The total volume planned for release in 2017–18 (including contributions from water savings in Victoria and NSW) is 218,500 ML.

Engagement

Waterway managers meet communities on environmental watering regionally, although other program partners also play a role.

In each region of Victoria, community engagement on environmental watering happens when environmental watering objectives and priorities are scoped (long term and annually), when delivering environmental water, and when reporting on environmental watering results.

In the East Gippsland region communities are involved in decisions about the Snowy River system.

                                                                                                                          Header banner image: McKillops Bridge, Snowy River, by Ken Judd

Who is engaged and how

Recreational users

Local angling clubs were invited to the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority's investigation into the ecological needs of the estuarine reach of the Snowy River.

The Catchment Management Authority aims to explore opportunities to achieve shared benefits from environmental watering to optimise opportunities for recreational paddling in the Snowy River.

Parks Victoria, as the land manager for parts of the Snowy river system (Snowy River National Park), interact directly with many recreational users - sometimes on environmental watering.

Environment groups

Local Landcare members were invited to the Catchment Management Authority's investigation into the ecological needs of the estuarine reach of the Snowy River.

Landholders/farmers

From a Victorian perspective, landholders or farmers are not specifically engaged about environmental water in this region. However, the Catchment Management Authority has a large focus on engagement with farmers generally.

Traditional Owners

There are many Traditional Owner groups that claim connection to the waterways of the Snowy Mountains. The NSW Office of Water has been leading engagement with Traditional Owners regarding incorporation of cultural values in environmental water management for the Snowy River.

Parts of this region are under Gunaikurnai Native Title managed by the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation. The Catchment Management Authority recognises the recently developed Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation draft Whole Of Country Plan which contains aspirations for rivers and wetlands in Gippsland.

Councils

The Catchment Management Authority distributes the Snowy Hydro environmental water delivery schedule with the East Gippsland Shire Council for risk management purposes related to potential flooding.