Snowy Advisory Committee

The Snowy Advisory Committee brings together local knowledge and expert advice to help DPIE - Biodiversity, Conservation and Science plan and deliver water for the environment to the Snowy River and the Snowy montane rivers.

Who is involved

The Snowy Advisory Committee (SAC) has 8 representatives from diverse backgrounds including Aboriginal community, local community, environmental interests and the NSW and Victorian governments. The committee is chaired independently by Emeritus Professor John Rodger.

SAC Chair, Professor John Rodger, said ‘the Snowy Advisory Committee provides for greater transparency and involvement in planning and annual delivery of water for the environment to the Snowy River and Snowy montane rivers to improve their health’.

‘The committee includes representatives with a wealth of cultural and local knowledge and an enduring passion for ensuring the ongoing health of these unique rivers.

In July 2018, the Minister for Regional Water appointed the SAC under the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997. Membership is based on the contribution individual members can make to connecting local and expert advice to agency work for the delivery the Snowy River Increased Flows (SRIF) and Snowy Montane Rivers Increased Flows (SMRIF).

Decision making

The SAC is responsible for providing advice to DPIE and the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation each year on the timing and annual pattern of release of water to the Snowy and montane rivers, as administered under the Snowy Water Licence.

DPIE–Biodiversity, Conservation & Science (DPIE–BC&S) provides DPIE–Water with the SAC advice and a daily release pattern for the environmental water available under the SRIF and SMRIF. DPIE–Water then directs inclusion of the release requirements into Snowy Hydro Limited’s Annual Water Operating Plan prepared as a Snowy Water Licence requirement, commencing 1 May each year.

DPIE–BC&S also develops and publishes an annual plan for the Snowy and montane rivers in consultation with Snowy Hydro, the SAC, and other relevant agencies. Planning for the year ahead begins in November of each year, when an indicative allocation of water available on the Snowy licences can be forecast for the year ahead with some certainty.

DPIE–BC&S and SAC input to the Snowy annual water operating plan is completed by February for the following water year, from 1 May to 30 April of any given year.

Each January, DPIE–Water provides DPIE–BC&S with the amount of water that will be available for the Snowy River and the pro-rata gigawatt hour allocation for the Snowy montane rivers for the following water year.

Members

John Rodger is a Conjoint Professor at the University of Newcastle, CEO and Executive Director at FAUNA Research Alliance and a Fellow at the Institute of Managers and Leaders. He has been involved in study of the reproductive biology of marsupials for all his career with a particular focus on turning this basic science into new and better tools to conserve threatened marsupials and fertility-based controls for overabundant marsupials, including the brushtail possum in New Zealand. He led the only Cooperative Research Centre dedicated to innovation in marsupial conservation and management. His contributions were recognised by appointment as an Emeritus Professor in 2019.

‘I am a long-time companion to the unique Snowy Mountains, and am very pleased and honoured to be taking up this role. I look forward to working with the diverse members of the Snowy Advisory Committee in seeking opportunities for strategic improvements for flows in the Snowy and montane rivers that benefit not just the river environments but the rivers’ communities.’

‘I have had the wonderful opportunity to have lived at Marlo, near the mouth of the Snowy River, for the last 30 years.

‘I greatly appreciate the environment that I live in and this has motivated me to participate in community groups that are committed to the rehabilitation of the Snowy River.

‘The start of the environmental water releases and the first release of Australian bass by an indigenous aquaculturist in the Snowy River are my fondest memories.’

Dr Doris Paton is a Monero–Ngarigo and Gunai woman. She is a specialised educationalist and researcher. She focuses on empowering others with knowledge to strengthen relationships and understanding. She is strongly committed to sharing her cultural knowledge of language and local history. Doris has a strong governance background and has held many positions on local, regional and national committees and boards.

She is currently a part-time Senior Lecturer at Monash University. Over many years, she has held management positions in Aboriginal education and training. She is a specialist curriculum advisor in Aboriginal curriculum and content. She educates the wider community through customised cultural competency training.

Dr Fiona Dyer is Associate Professor in Water Science with the Centre for Applied Water Science (CAWS), and the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), University of Canberra.  She is a freshwater research scientist with an active research program in environmental flows and eco-hydrology. For the past 20 years, Fiona has been involved in the design, implementation and monitoring of environmental flows in a range of riverine environments in south-eastern Australia.

Her research has contributed to the management of environmental flows from the upland rivers of the Murrumbidgee catchment to the lowland rivers of the Lachlan catchment. She has co-authored more than 50 peer reviewed journal publications, 2 book chapters, 10 refereed conference proceedings and a wide variety of technical reports.

In addition to her research-led contributions to policy and practice, Fiona is actively involved in community natural resource management organisations in the region. She is currently an executive member and past chair of the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Network, a community-based cross-border network of agencies and groups responsible for natural resource management in the upper Murrumbidgee catchment and she has a particular interest in environmental flows across the montane rivers.

Graeme Enders is a Director in the Biodiversity, Conservation and Science Division of DPIE. This role carries operational responsibility for the delivery of water to the environment in southern NSW. This includes the Snowy and montane rivers, where the different groups within DPIE collaborate to manage the annual environmental flows, with the advice of the SAC.

Graeme has a long association with the Snowy River, having contributed to achieving a balanced outcome for the river, for its communities, and for the hydro company during its corporatisation. He also contributed to a recovery project to bring together NSW agencies with communities in anticipation of increased flows after that time. The SAC continues this important connection.

Graeme Dear has been a recreational fisher his entire life and has spent many years fishing the Snowy River for bass and other estuary fish. His interest in fishing led him to become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (EGCMA), where his love of rivers and professional administration expertise aligned.

Graeme has been the CEO of the EGCMA for 18 years. The EGCMA is responsible for managing the health of the Snowy River in Victoria and provides advice on behalf of the Victorian Government regarding the health needs of the river and estuary.

The Snowy Advisory Committee met via video conference on 20 May to review the 2020–21 Snowy and montane rivers environmental watering year, look at the year ahead and received an update on the Snowy Water Licence Review.

The 2020–21 Snowy and montane rivers environmental watering program in review

In 2020–21 the water allocation available for the Snowy River and montane streams was one of the lowest since the environmental watering program began. This was due to low rainfall and storage dam inflows in the Murray Darling Basin during the previous year. In 2020–21, a total of 130 gigalitres (GL) of environmental water was delivered to the Snowy and montane streams. 

The total volume of environmental water delivered to the Snowy and montane streams in 2020–21

River reach/ catchment Water Delivery Site Environmental Water Delivered (GL)

Snowy River (below Jindabyne Dam)

Jindabyne Dam Outlet

91.2

Murrumbidgee River

Tantangara Dam Outlet

3.1

Goodradigbee River

Goodradigbee River Weir

7.1

Geehi River

Middle Creek and Strezelecki Creek weirs

13.6

Snowy River—Island Bend to Lake Jindabyne

Tolbar Creek and Diggers Creek weirs

11.9

Snowy River—Guthega to Island Bend

Falls Creek Weir

3.1

Total

130 GL

91.5 GL was allocated to the Snowy River below Jindabyne in 2020–21 and of this 91.2 GL was delivered, resulting in a minor under use. The 0.3 GL under use has been added to the planned Snowy River flows for 2021–22.

During 2020-21 releases into the Snowy River had daily flow variability with higher daily flows during winter and spring. There was not sufficient environmental water available to provide a large flushing flow event to move large sediment. Four smaller eight-hour flow events of above 1 GL were delivered to improve the river channel condition by moving fine sediment. The flows were designed to maintain river health and promote productivity (food) for water-dependent plants and animals including turtles, fish, frogs and platypus.

In the montane streams, a foregone electricity generation value of 58.7 gigawatt hours (GWh) (equivalent to 38.8 GL) was available in 2020–21. To maintain flows to all the targeted montane streams equates to an electricity value of 71 GWh, meaning there wasn’t sufficient water available to achieve this. An adjustment to flow was made at Middle Creek (a Geehi River tributary) to compensate for the lower total. The aqueduct intake was partly opened allowing a portion of the flows to be diverted for Snowy Hydro purposes and a portion of the water to flow over the weir throughout the year. This was the first time the weir and aqueduct have been operated to maintain some continuous flows in this way. Without this arrangement, the flow would have had to cease for three or more months to make up the compensating water volume. The Committee commended the efforts of Snowy Hydro and DPIE to work together manage the releases in this manner to maintain supply to the water-dependent plants and animals that live in Middle Creek.

A total of 3.1 GL of environmental water was delivered to the Upper Murrumbidgee from Tantangara Dam. Flow rates to the Upper Murrumbidgee were varied during the winter and spring to better maintain river health and functions. A key objective was to promote instream productivity to provide food and important habitat for the Macquarie perch, a fish species listed as endangered both in NSW and Nationally.

2021–22 planned environmental water releases for the Snowy and montane rivers

The 2021–22 water year commenced on 1 May. There is 209.8 GL of environmental water available for the Snowy River below Jindabyne and 88.8 GL (142.272 GWh electricity value) for the montane streams which includes 31.6 GL for the Upper Murrumbidgee river from Tantangara.

There are planned environmental water releases to the Snowy River for every day of the year. The flows have daily variability with higher release rates planned to be typical of a local snowmelt river. With significantly higher allocations available this water year, there will be an opportunity to provide five 8-hour peak events including a good chance of achieving a larger Spring flushing flow to the Snowy River if sufficiently high enough storage targets are reached in Jindabyne Dam. Such high flow events are expected to clean riffles and to mobilise and flush sediment to improve the health of the river channel. The water releases are currently tracking as planned and as of 19 May 2021 an estimated 6.2 GL had been delivered.

Daily environmental releases to the targeted montane streams are also tracking as planned and flows from Tantangara Dam into the Upper Murrumbidgee commence on 25 May. Flows to these streams are providing essential habitat for water-dependent animals including water bugs, frogs, native fish, and platypus.

Monitoring environmental flows in 2021–22

DPIE are finalising a monitoring program for this water year. The targeted program will monitor selected parameters of the environmental flows including water temperature in the Snowy and Upper Murrumbidgee rivers. Water temperature plays a critical role in maintaining healthy rivers and having optimal temperatures can provide natural cues for native fish to breed.

The Snowy Water Licence Review

The Snowy Water Licence is reviewed on a statutory schedule to identify potential licence improvements. The most recent review proposed investigation into options to better manage environmental allocations and flows and for improvement to the current water release rules. The Committee was provided with an update on the current Snowy Water Licence review process and the investigations that are underway to generate advice for DPIE to consider and provide to Government.

The Committee next plans to meet in October 2021.

The Snowy Advisory Committee met via video conference on 5 February 2021 to finalise the flow release options for the 2021–22 water year for the Snowy and montane rivers and discussed the Snowy Water Licence Review.

There are 209.5 gigalitres of water available for Snowy River flows from Jindabyne for 2021–22. With wetter conditions in the southern Murray-Darling Basin this water allocation is significantly higher than the 91.4 gigalitres that was available in the previous year.

The Committee uses available science and knowledge to inform its advice on the use of environmental water for the Snowy River. A ‘natural flow scaling’ approach is applied where historic flow data in the Thredbo River is used as a reference for daily and seasonal flow variability in the Snowy River below Jindabyne, as Thredbo River flow volumes are of a similar size.

The 2021–22 water allocations will again provide an opportunity to deliver a flushing flow to the Snowy River. Combined with several other higher flow releases during the spring season period this is expected to mobilise and flush sediments along and to the sides of the river channel, improving the health and condition of the riverbed. These flows should help with recovery of the river following the extreme fires of 2019–20.

Higher level, more energetic water flows clean and flush the spaces between gravel stones to improve productivity and habitat for aquatic animals, including water bugs, crustaceans, frogs, fish and platypus. A strong platypus population has been observed along the Snowy River below Jindabyne since environmental flows were introduced.

There will be adequate environmental water for 2021–22 to maintain flows in all the montane streams which have had environmental flow allocated, including the upper Murrumbidgee, upper Snowy River, Goodradigbee River, Middle Creek, Diggers Creek and the Geehi River. Flows to these streams will provide essential habitat for water dependent animals including water bugs, frogs, native fish, and platypus.

There is 31.6 gigalitres available for Tantangara Dam environmental water releases into the upper Murrumbidgee during 2021–22. This will provide some natural flow seasonality and daily flow variability. The upper Murrumbidgee supports the largest of only three remaining natural NSW populations of Macquarie perch, listed as endangered both in NSW and nationally. The higher flows are intended to improve the health of the river by cleaning sediment from riffles and to provide suitable habitat for Macquarie perch to lay their eggs.

The Snowy water licence outlines Snowy Hydro Limited’s obligations in relation to water in the Snowy Mountains Scheme including releases of environmental water. The licence is regularly reviewed to identify potential licence improvements and the most recent review proposed options for investigation to better manage environmental flows and improve the current water release rules. The Committee was provided with an update on the current licence review and investigations that are currently underway, including examining the benefits of releasing environmental water to the Snowy River via Mowamba River and water release rules for greater flexibility. The Committee noted that consideration of Mowamba River flows in the review process is very important to both the river and its communities and having greater flexibility would be essential for improving river health.

The Committee next plan to meet in May 2021. 

The Snowy Advisory Committee met via video conference on 2 December 2020 to discuss the current Snowy and montane flow releases, and potential releases for the 2021-22 water year for the Snowy and montane rivers – including the upper Murrumbidgee river.

South East Local Land Services (SE LLS) provided an update on catchment management for the Snowy and upper Murrumbidgee rivers. The last major pest plant control for the Snowy River was in 2016-17. For some areas this was the 5th application and the outcomes were very successful. Catchment Action NSW grants are currently being implemented by SE LLS using an expression of interest process. Landholders can apply for grants for fencing, revegetation and installation of off-stream water points to improve riparian management. SE LLS can provide technical advice and support to empower landholders and communities for improved land management.

Prolonged drought conditions resulted in the Snowy and montane 2020–21 environmental water allocations being some of the lowest since 2011. With the small volumes of water made available, the last of four peak flows for the Snowy River was delivered on 28 October 2020 from Jindabyne Dam. The higher energy flow peaks help to move sediment from water channels and to maintain water quality and improve river health. These flows are providing important habitat for native plants and animals that live in the Snowy River including platypus, fish and water bugs.

This water year flow reductions are required in the montane system as there is insufficient water available to maintain flows at all of the weirs for the entire water year. One of the actions undertaken to meet the required reductions was to temporarily decrease Middle Creek flows from September for several months. Full releases to Middle Creek will recommence in January 2021. Most of the targeted environmental flows have now been delivered. The flows are to provide essential habitat and food for water dependent animals including native fish, water bugs, frogs and platypus. The Department will be undertaking macroinvertebrate surveys and trialling underwater video surveillance for fish species at Middle Creek, Diggers Creek, Geehi River and the upper Snowy River. A follow-up observation trip is planned for April 2021. The data collected from these surveys will help to inform the Committee of the current health of these creeks and rivers.

With average rainfall and stronger inflows into the Murray Darling Basin, the 2021-2022 outlook on water availability for the Snowy and montane rivers is looking much better.

A ‘natural flow scaling’ approach is used to deliver environmental water to the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam. Thredbo River flows are a similar size to the volume of environmental water that is now available for the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam, so the Committee uses historic flow patterns in the Thredbo River as a reference to guide the decision-making process for water releases into the Snowy River. Using this approach and the best available science, the Committee is working through the flow options for 2021–22 to prepare its advice to the NSW Department.

The outlook indicates there will be sufficient water available to run water through all of the montane river assets including Middle Creek and the Goodradigbee River.There will also be sufficient allocation to provide some environmental flow from Tantangara Dam into the upper Murrumbidgee River for water-dependent plants and animals and to improve river health above Cooma.

The Committee will reconvene in February 2021 to finalise its recommended flow options for the Snowy and montane rivers using near-to-final water allocations on the Snowy water licences.