Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snowy River roars again after long drought

he noose strangling the once mighty Snowy River has been loosened, freeing billions of litres of water in a deluge not seen for more than four decades.

More than 17 billion litres of water has begun spewing from Jindabyne Dam, in south-east NSW, turning what was once a trickle feeding the parched Snowy into a torrent.
It's the biggest inflow the river has seen in 43 years, when inflows were diverted as part of the Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme.

A deal between the Victorian, NSW and commonwealth governments will see flows returned to 21 per cent of historic levels within two years, up from the less than one per cent that has crippled the river for decades.
Over the next week, 17.5 billion litres of water will tumble into the Snowy after the jurisdictions agreed to cancel out a lingering "water debt" owed to Snowy Hydro from water borrowed to flush the river during the drought.
It was impeccable timing for Victorian Premier John Brumby, who will face voters at the ballot box in a little over three weeks.

Mr Brumby said the timing of the water release was purely coincidental and was designed to emulate flows occurring during the annual snow melt.
"Today is history. There has never been as much water released down the Snowy as you've seen today," he said, while inspecting the dam wall at Jindabyne on Thursday.

"This is, if you like, the reawakening of the Snowy River, this is the rebirth of the Snowy River."
The extra water has come from a joint $425 million investment in irrigation upgrades and water saving projects.

When the target is reached, 212 billion litres of water is expected to flow into the Snowy - up from nine billion litres - the equivalent of half of Melbourne's yearly water use.

The river had been beset by a 65 billion-litre "water debt" accumulated from 2002-2005 when water was borrowed from Snowy Hydro to meet environmental flows under a deal struck in 2000.
The commonwealth has agreed to compensate Snowy Hydro $13.7 million for the water still owed - freeing it up to be returned to the river.

Independent MP for Gippsland East Craig Ingram has long campaigned for the river to be restored to its former glory and said the water release was the first step.

"I stood here on numerous occasions looking at the pipe, which released a trickle, and the comparison is quite extraordinary," he said.

"The Snowy River has effectively been silenced through the top sections of the river for 40-odd years, today though it's another step in returning life to the river."
Another mass flow of water will occur next April, with six billion litres to be released as part of the autumn cycle.

The Snowy River was dry as a bone at Island Bend Dam in February.
The Snowy River was dry as a bone at Island Bend Dam in February. (Snowy River Alliance: Louise Crisp)

In total 70 billion litres are expected to flow into the Snowy this financial year.

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