In a remarkable display of bloodymindedness, the NSW government has unilaterally issued a report declaring it is fulfilling its obligations under the Inter-Governmental Agreement to save the Snowy River, and indicating it will continue to draw water off the Snowy despite extensive evidence the river is nearer to degradation than ever.

The NSW, Victorian and Commonwealth governments are parties to an agreement 10 years ago to significantly increase environmental flows to the Snowy. The agreement is costing taxpayers $425 million. As Crikey revealed in June, a scientific committee in 2008 report showed the Snowy remains under extreme stress.

While drought has undoubtedly been a key factor, the actions of Snowy Hydro Ltd, the management authority corporatised under the IGA, backed by the NSW government, have been critical in preventing much needed water flows from reaching the Snowy. Critically, Snowy Hydro Ltd has insisted on not merely continuing to divert water from the Mowamba River, which flows into the Snowy downstream from Jindabyne, up to Jindabyne Dam, but it insists that it should be “repaid” water that entered the Snowy from the Mowamba while the Mowamba Viaduct was decommissioned from 2002-06. This deprives the Snowy of up to 40 gigalitres a year of naturally and seasonably variable water flow.

Yesterday the NSW government released what it called the “Final Report” of the “First Five Year Review of the Snowy Hydro Water Licence”. The review was required by legislation by late 2007, five years and six months after Snowy Hydro’s licence was issued, making it two years late, without explanation.

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The report in effect declares that the current arrangements are just fine, thank you.

The current environmental flow regime was developed as a result of extensive scientific review and public consultation … any significant changes to the current flow regime would need to be based on recommendations arising out of further scientific studies. These studies would require a considerable amount of time … It is proposed that the environmental flow regime will again be considered in 2012 …

This is despite the NSW government’s own Snowy Scientific Committee — which it resisted establishing for two years — reporting late last year that “flows down the Snowy River from (Jindabyne) dam have not been adequate for habitat and channel maintenance, have not provided normal stream conditions for stream fauna, and have not delivered any discernible lateral connectivity … the current monitoring program is not adequate … institutional arrangements for delivering water appear fixed and inadequate … releases to flush deep pools are urgently needed.”

The report specifically rejects  the decommissioning of the Mowamba Viaduct, long sought by Snowy advocates, and even an end to the absurd “repayment” of Mowamba water from 2002-06.

Cancelling the outstanding amount of the Mowamba Borrow without the offsetting of the amount through verified water savings and reduction in Required Annual Releases would reduce the amount of water available for extraction to water users on the western rivers. This would have implications on (sic) the operations of the various water sharing plans on these rivers.

What was even more remarkable about the report is that the NSW government simply issued it, without even providing copies to the other parties in the IGA, the Commonwealth and Victorian governments. Victorian water minister Tim Holding responded with a savage press release.

“New South Wales’ decision to release the licence review report today without any consultation with Victoria or the Commonwealth is symptomatic of its reluctance to explore opportunities to improve the Snowy’s environmental flow regime,” Holding declared.

“NSW has simply dismissed community concerns about its ad hoc management of the Snowy River and ignored proposals from Victoria for licence amendments to allow more flexibility in how environmental releases are managed.”

As Holding’s press release suggests, the NSW government has a long track record of obstinacy on the Snowy, particularly given the IGA imposes virtually no legally binding obligations of any kind on NSW.

Without some sort of intervention by the Commonwealth, nothing will be done about the parlous state of the Snowy until after 2012, and on the NSW government’s record so far, not even then.

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