12 January, 2015

Snowy Scheme

As my readers know I have often questioned whether the management of the Snowy Scheme has sufficient emphasis on its original water conservation objectives compared with the apparent focus on hydro electricity generation. In late November I had the opportunity of joining a Snowy Hydro conducted tour of the Scheme which concentrated on the Northern end (Tumut/Murrumbidgee), as distinct from the southern (Murray) end.
It was a fascinating experience and whilst I remain no expert, I am gaining a better understanding of the scheme itself from an engineering perspective and how Snowy Hydro manage it in accordance with the requirements of their shareholders and the agreements which govern the management. I must say I come away with great admiration of both. The Scheme is a master piece of engineering and I was most impressed with the management and general efficiency of Snowy Hydro. That is not to say that I don't still harbor views that the management of the scheme has lost sight of its original prime objective of water conservation for irrigation. I do, but that is not the fault of Snowy Hydro.

Snowy Hydro shareholders are the Governments of NSW, Victoria and Australia. It makes its money from hydro electricity generation, not irrigation water and these shareholders require it to maximise its earnings which, it seems to me, it does very well. Amongst many other things, the agreements which govern its operations require it to make minimum releases of a little over 1,000GL per annum to both the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Interestingly about half of this water once flowed east to the sea. In my view it could do considerably more in the water conservation area, but that would be in conflict with its shareholder's requirements.

Much of this relates to the timing of releases and among other things, the need to keep airspace in Blowering Reservoir so that water can be released when the demand for peak load electricity is strong.

The tour had a nostalgic aspect for me. When I was a school boy at Canberra Grammar I spent many holidays with the Miners family at Adaminaby. They held some Kiandra snow leases and I had several trips on horse back with pack horses taking livestock to and from the high snow country. One of the leases was Happy Jack's and I spent some nights camped at the Happy Jack's hut. I was thus delighted to see when we received the itinerary for the tour that the first stop after Jindabyne

was
Happy Jack's Dam. The scenery above
Eucumbene Dam was magnificent
and for me the fact that one of our guides who I mostly travelled with was  Charlie Litchfield, a member of a well known local family who new the country and landholders backwards, was a real bonus. There was much reminiscing.
At the time of my school boy visits the Snowy Scheme was under construction and I well remember the houses being moved from the old Adaminaby to the new town site, before the old town area was flooded by Eucumbene Dam.

Suffice to say it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative trip.
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