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Snowy River: History, Facts, & Hydro Scheme

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About a year ago, on a road trip, my family drove over the Jindabyne Dam, as shown in the picture. We stopped to have a look at it, and I remember being amazed at how huge it was. I felt minuscule in comparison. We also travelled by the Snowy River. Despite hearing lots about this river, until recently, I haven’t realised the significance of this the Snowy River. Now I know what a distinctive role it plays in our society, from being a major cultural icon to providing sustainable energy. However, the drought has brought some fundamental issues around the Snowy River to light. Now because of the lack of excess water, it has become harder, yet still possible, to solve these problems.

The Snowy River starts near Mount Stillwell, and flows through NSW for 352 kms, emptying into the Bass Strait. It is fed by chiefly melted snow that runs down from the Australian Alps. In 1974, Snowy Hydro had been built. Since then, it has boomed into a multi-billion dollar company that rely on the river to make renewable hydroelectricity. The river is also utilised by the small towns who live along it, running their tourism businesses. However, river tour guide Richard Swain has recently been losing thousands of dollars over cancelled trips due to the lack of natural flow in the river. This is partly caused by Snowy Hydro redirecting the flow of the river and the lack of rainfall. One last important, yet controversial, stakeholder of the Snowy River is the brumbies. There are an estimated 6000 brumbies that run free in Kosciuszko National park. People believe they are destroying the national parks by trampling the plants and spreading weeds. These brumbies heavily rely on the river for water and the land near it for food. The Snowy River is used for commercial, industrial and recreational purposes, meaning there is a conflict between stakeholders.

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The Snowy River is a cultural icon of Australia. The poem “The Man from Snowy River” by Banjo Patterson is even on our ten-dollar note. Snowy River is known and valued by many Australians. As well as it’s cultural importance, the Snowy River is very important to Australia economically, through powering Snowy Hydro. The Snowy Hydro Scheme, which is dubbed “one of the most complex water and hydroelectric power schemes in the world”. The system generates 4500 gigawatts of energy each year, proving itself as a major economic asset to Australians through the energy and jobs it provides. When it was being built 100,000 people from around the world were employed to help. Finally, many people have an aesthetic relationship with the Snowy River. This relationship is not as notable as the cultural or economic relationship, many people go on holidays around the Snowy Mountains and appreciate the beautiful Snowy River or even a place like Jindabyne dam as I did. This links back to an economic relationship, as locals who live along the Snowy River businesses rely on new people visiting their towns and buying items, or providing accommodation.

Snowy Hydro diverts water from smaller rivers to store it and use it for irrigation. These minor rivers now, due to lack of rain, have very little water in them, allowing sediment to be built up, further stopping the natural flow of the river. This is disturbing the freshwater ecosystems in the river and has driven away the wildlife that used to live around it. The government is managing this by releasing “environmental flows” into the river, releasing huge amounts of water from Jindabyne dam. Since 2002, the government has released 51 billion litres of water to the Snowy River. However, due to the drought, the amount of water they can release into the river is limited. The lack of water is shown by the picture comparing dam levels at Eucembene from 1999 to 2018. In 2002, the government pledged to return 21% of the rivers flow by 2012. This has caused some debate as people claim that it is ‘wasting water’, and some debris is washing up onto farmers land. The drought has also severely affected the brumbies, as they are dying of malnutrition and thirst.

In conclusion, the drought has brought some fundamental problems surrounding the Snowy River to the surface.These include the impact Snowy Hydro has on smaller towns, the management of brumbies and the health of the river’s ecosystems.These problems are being dealt with, but the drought also limits the amount the government can do to deal with these problems. As a result, this forces people to work together and think out of the box to keep the Snowy River healthy, as it is a well known Australian icon, valued by the people and wildlife who live along it, to larger companies such as Snowy Hydro.

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