Government to Finally Act on Bureaucratic Flooding

FINALLY, last night, the NSW government agreed to change Snowy Hydro Licence conditions which required water to be released into the already swollen Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers –exacerbating the current flood crisis.  

The article in today’s The Australian newspaper (page 7), indicating licence conditions will be changed, quotes Terry Charlton, CEO of Snowy Hydro, denying that recent flooding was exacerbated by licence conditions.

This comment from Mr Charlton is disingenuous, contradicts comment he made to me in a telephone conversation yesterday, and also comment he made to former employees of Snowy Hydro at a meeting in Cooma on November 25, 2010, that even though Blowering and Hume dams were spilling, Snowy Hydro still had to release water from Lake Eucumbene because of licence conditions.

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26 Responses to Government to Finally Act on Bureaucratic Flooding

  1. Geoff Brown December 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Well done, Jen. Keep pushing.

  2. Ron Pike December 15, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    I’ll make a little bet with you.
    There will be a short period of smaller releases and then in the New Year it will be back to big releases to generate power, because both NSW and Victoria are short of generating capacity.
    Just a note on the upper Murrumbidgee.
    Tantangra Dam is quite close to the source of the Murrumbidgee and is only there to divert water from the top of the ‘bidgee to Eucumbene.
    From Eucumbene it is then released either to the Murray or back to the ‘bidgee via the Tumut.

  3. Jennifer December 15, 2010 at 1:04 pm #


    A nice piece by you in Quadrant today:

    And thanks, Jen

  4. Johnathan Wilkes December 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Ron Pike

    I am not conversant with the original government intentions regards to the Snowy scheme,
    but I find it hard to believe that the “MAIN” intention was to generate electricity.
    At the time it was neither needed nor believed that coal would be a dirty word sometime in the future.

    To provide for the generators however was only common sense, why waste the power of water when needed to release it anyway, from such a height?

    What you think?

  5. Janelle December 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Good job Jenny.
    People are slowly ‘waking up’ to what is really happening in our country and they are getting pretty angry. As you know we are kept in the dark with main stream media.
    Keep up the good work..

  6. Polyaulax December 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    The Australian article reveals that the usual suspects-Barnaby J- seek to make political hay out of a ‘controversy’ that will disappear if they actually directed a staff member to look at the real-time data.

    How is Terry Charlton’s statement today contradictory of what you reported of yesterday’s conversation?

    You reported him as saying the releases ‘may’ have exacerbated flooding on the 14th. On the 15th,he states that they did not. That gave him a day to get informed,to decide whether that ‘may’ was a ‘did’ or ‘did not’. He obviously became confident that releases were not exacerbatory.

    In the Oz article,he states that Snowy Hydro stopped releasing the daily component of the water entitlement known as the RAR (Required Annual Release) on Wednesday 8/12. If that is true,then from my understanding using Water Office data this makes SH’s contribution to Tumut Valley flooding even less than I previously speculated. That daily component total works out at a maximum of 2810 ML/day, and we do not even know if anywhere near this quantity was being released…..whatever was released was a declining residual of the flood at Tumut peaking on 9/12,given that the release was stopped the day before. The flood peak at Tumut hit 26,000 ML/day,demonstrating that at least 90% of the flood came from unregulated catchment and dam overflow.It may very well have been 95% uncontrollable component,making the RAR contribution only a few centimetres of the 2.8m reached at the Tumut gauge.

    Remember,in terms of Murrumbidgee Valley flooding,the main peak came mostly from the Murrumbidgee itself,and was already at Gundagai on 3/4th December. The later peaking Tumut flood can be seen contributing a small part of the secondary peak a week later. So the RAR water [< 2800ML/day]contributed at most one percent to the peak volume at Gundagai [280,000 ML/day],and ever diminishing amounts further west as more swollen tributaries joined the main river.

  7. cohenite December 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    Your point seems to be made Poly; namely that the statutory release of water for the river flow did not unduly exacerbate the flood; however, several issues remain:

    1 Why, in a time of manifest flood, was the release maintained at all?

    2 Are there dams which have not benefited from the floods in terms of storage?

    3 Could there be improvements in infrastructure to maximise the flood water capture and storage and coincidentally minimise flood damage; again the question here is if infrastructure investment is necessary to achieve these 2 purposes is AGW theory and attendant predictions of climate a barrier to this happening?

    4 Now that water storage is at maximum and presumably flow also, apart from Eucumbene, why is there not revision of farm water limits?

    5 What can be done to integrate Eucumbene and its storage and flood mitigation capacity into the system in a better way?

  8. Robert December 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    No-one thinks RAR was a significant contributor to the flooding. It should have been a ZERO contributor to flooding. Clear now?

    Let’s hope Barnaby and other “populists” do make some political hay out of this. Our green sophisticates may be, as they so frequently affirm, more intelligent than the rest of us. It’s just that they can’t think.

  9. Matthew December 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    “No-one thinks RAR was a significant contributor to the flooding. It should have been a ZERO contributor to flooding. Clear now?”

    Sorry, but that’s a BIG walk-back from “somewhere in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 megalitres of water per day … regardless of how many extra wheat fields flood and extra homes are destroyed”

    Facts actually do matter. If there was a small amount of water being released, for whatever reason, then it’s still a small amount of water. From what the “boss of snow hydro” said in the oz, SHA basically applied common sense in difficult circumstances. Just go read the article.

  10. Jennifer December 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    The NSW Office of Water is now acting:

    From: David Harriss []
    Sent: Wednesday, 15 December 2010 1:53 PM
    To: david.lindsay [Leeton]
    Subject: RE: S.H.Water.

    … The Office of Water is working with Snowy Hydro (SHL) and other governments on a proposal that would enable SHL not be required to release additional (payback) water into the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers this year.

    The proposal has a number of components that are being considered and, if agreed, would require changes to Operating licences and potentially the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

    These take time but all parties are working cooperatively and in good faith, despite some media to the contrary. If agreed the Office of Water proposes to get the Commonwealth and relevant states to effect the agreement through an exchange of letters until licence and agreement changes may be completed. This is being reviewed by our legal team…

  11. Polyaulax December 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Robert,if no-one thinks RAR was a significant contributor to the flooding,why are they saying things like “sending floods west”,or spinning up cute stuff like “Bureaucratic flooding”,or to cite today’s Australian article “dumping water into flooded areas”?

    Is it RAR’s ‘fault’? Was Snowy Hydro running their generators 24/7,or at least longer than typical, to take advantage of the overabundance of water? They are in business you know. Are they sneaking lots of revenue while pointing the finger at the States mandated releases? I hope this is a stupid,ill-posed question.

    Cohey, Eucumbene is the only dam not to benefit much,though it’s on the rise .Its own catchment is small and in a relative rain-shadow.Tantangara can only feed it 1.5 GL/d at best. I guess the quickest way to feed it is via the two-way tunnels.If you ran it in from the upper Tumut,you’d deliver 12 GL/day,and I think about 9 GL/day from the upper Snowy,but of course this isn’t manageable. It’s a huge dam. Hypothetically-if I’ve done the maths right-if you completely shut down most of the system,and diverted at max capacity for a fortnight via both tunnels,you’d add just 6% to the capacity..this can never be done given the typical state of stream flows and demand,and the prospect of zero revenues. So they have to ‘milk’ the aqueducts in a balancing act.

    I can only imagine if Eucumbene was to be used more as flood storage-which is already its role indirectly as it holds back the spring surplus- one would need to reduce power output from the scheme at times,and consequently compensate Snowy Hydro.

  12. Polyaulax December 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    …or as Jen’s reproduction of the OW communication suggests, make special provisions involving all parties!

    In response to cohey’s #3,put a gate on Blowering that can hold back an extra 3m water depth?

  13. Robert December 15, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    A release of waters during flood for any practical purpose is dubious-to-okay. A matter of debate, in which quantity, timing and net gain should be considered.

    Any amount above zero for an environmental purpose, whether contractual or not, is scandalous. Even if we don’t know who, precisely, is to blame, it’s scandalous. Scandalous because futile, ritualistic, mindless and contrary to human interests. And we wouldn’t want that to stand as a definition of environmentalism, would we?

  14. Matthew December 15, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Jennifer, have you actually proved that there WAS any “bureaucratic flooding”?

  15. Dennis Webb December 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Mat and the Poly are clearly much more concerned about the reputations of their mates, the bureaucrats, than they are about people or the environment.
    Shame on you both.
    And why I support smaller government.

  16. Another Ian December 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    Jen, FYI. Off this thread but the thread title works

    “CLIMATE change will ravage parts of the southeast as sea level rises wash away homes in inner-city Brisbane and the Gold Coast, new modelling shows.
    Maps released by the Federal Government today show the havoc that will be caused by sea level rises over the next 90 years.

    The lowest scenario, a 0.5m rise, is considered unavoidable by 2100 and will lead to inundation in suburbs including Albion, Mango Hill and Northgate along with bayside and beachside homes.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts the high level risk at a 1.1m rise and under that scenario, homes in Newstead, New Farm, Bardon, East Brisbane and Capalaba would be under water.

    Bayside suburbs would be decimated and Gold Coast suburbs including Robina, Carrara, Southport would be affected along with vast swathes of canal suburbs and waterfront real estate.”

    Get the idea??

  17. Matthew December 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    Dennis Webb:

    Tell me exactly what SHA was releasing due to “environmental flows”, or anything else that wasn’t necessary under the circumstances. Give me numbers. Actual numbers. And until you can do so, shelve the “ALP Stooge” nonsense.

    A few facts, that’s all I ask.

  18. MVFFA December 15, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Aren’t some of you beginning to miss the point here? Apart from the fact that they did not give Jennifer a straight answer when she asked a genuine question, there are many other things wrong here.
    If there are tens of thousands of megalitres belting out of the barrages at the moment and every dam below Eucumbene is spilling and every single environmental asset is flooded, why have they let even 1 lousy megalitre out of Eucumbene?
    Just so you are all clear,the number one rule about water is,unless you pump it, it runs downhill!!! No one in our organisation has a Hydrology degree but we don’t think we need one to understand that.
    Where did SHL and NOW think it was going? Even if it only added 1 tiny centimetre to the flood, THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE IT!
    If they release out of Eucumbene or do not divert to Eucumbene,the only other places it can go is to Blowering via Tumut River and then to the Murrumbidgee,or otherwise it’s off to the Hume weir and down the Murray. Where else is it going to go? Don’t forget that those dams are out of control.
    We have seen the graphs,SH has had well above average inflows since July this year. We mean way well above!
    While they might be able to argue that some of the most recent rainfall has fallen below Eucumbene, the rest of their story is BUNK! Do they seriously expect us to believe that there is a magic black hole (or rain shadow) over their entire catchment area that means that they are the only place that didn’t receive much rain? Really? How about we check the rainfall records of all the areas around Eucumbene? While we’re at it maybe we should check the snow depths and snow fall records.
    Please go to this link: and check 2010 levels with 2009
    Tthen give us an explanation why Eucumbene is lower now than it was this time last year. There is only one possible explanation isn’t there?
    We are getting really annoyed with the repeated nonsense from these people that they “intend” to fix this anomoly in the licence. They have known that it is a problem for at least 2 years. How many letters and emails and faxes and phonecalls do you have to make before you can be certain you have covered your arse?
    So far, all we can see, the only thing they have “fixed” are some very large pieces of stainless steel across their backsides. They have had plenty of chances to fix this problem and they have waited until the whole system is out of control before they have finally started to do something about it.
    We don’t know about anyone else, but we would not employ people like this.
    Jennifer, you are doing an excellent job in trying to unravel this mess. Keep up the good work and don’t take any crap from any of them!
    MVFFA remain thoroughly appalled at the whole situation. This is senseless waste of a precious resource by people who have been loudly crowing that they are expert water managers.

  19. Polyaulax December 15, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    MVFFA,,yes,the responses have been fitful and arouse suspicion,Snowy Hydro has a glossy interface,but digging deeper into times and quantities is difficult. I wonder whether this is about power revenue,and the terms of the licenses seems to have some convenience for achieving that aim under the umbrella of the RARs. I hope I’m wrong. I also fully expect that when SH is privatised,info will be harder to get ,unless we legislate carefully. The desire to build SH value prior to privatisation may also be at play….

    But I want to know the numbers and the timeline of the rainfalls and floodpeaks,and the actual quantity of ‘bureaucratic’ water really involved, before I start hacking about me.

    We have an upper bound RAR for each catchment,but it may well be lower after releases below Tantangara [9 days @ 350ML/day,from 3 to 12/12] is factored in. While these of course go west,they take a lot more time and miles to get there. It is still a bit of a puzzle why this water wasn’t simply retained in Tantangara for release to Eucumbene…maybe it was EF for river flushing to Cooma and dilution of dirty run-off below there? There is much more water all the same in Tantangara than this time last year,so that’s a win for the coming months if dry.

    I think you are correct in suggesting Lake Eucumbene could have been at least as full as this time last year. While the six months to end December 2009 brought 600 to 800+ mm to the northern Snowy,this year has been wetter [yes,I don’t say!]

    A lot of water has been entering Lake Jindabyne,from the Thredbo River and the Eucumbene R. below Eucumbene obviously,but we don’t know how much has come from Island Bend spilling,and excess from the interception points on the Gungarlin and Burrungubugge Rivers. This should be a substantial amount.

    So,while Eucumbene is low,Tantangara hasn’t been this full since at least 1997[!] and Jindabyne hasn’t been this full since 2003. This is good news.

    Eucumbene is in better shape than 2007 & 2008,and since storage levels there collapsed in 2006,things really haven’t varied all that much and follow the same seasonal curve shape. I’ve said this before,I know,but the great bulk of the flooding rain in the Tumut catchment fell below Tumut Pondage,meaning that that runoff was not controllable on top of the already full dams further downstream. It was not in the position to be intercepted and sent back to Lake Eucumbene.

  20. MVFFA December 16, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    MVFFA does not really want to get involved in an on line argument about figures and semantics. This is not why we have been commenting on these issues.
    We admire your tenacity in trying to track down some usable information. There should be more people like you who care enough about these issues to take the time to investigate the facts. This is also why we have supported Jennifer’s efforts.
    We remain a little unsure about your reasons for trying to somehow defend an obvious anomoly in the licence that they (NOW and SHL) have known about for quite some time. To MVFFA’s knowledge, they have known about this problem for at least 2 years. Some of our members had raised this concern with the relevant authorities well before the floods. We were informed along with everyone else who tried, that something was being done about it. There is no question that they knew there was a potential problem with their rules and their licence.
    The obvious question from all that you have found out here is: How come Eucumbene is in worse shape now than what it was this time last year?
    In 2009 we were all still in the grip of a drought and the inflows were way lower than this year.
    If they were able to store more water at the latter stages of the drought than they can during their highest inflow year this century, doesn’t this mean they have been letting it out into a flooded system? We can’t think of any other explanation.
    Even though we’re unsure about your motivation, we are very impressed with your ability to track down information and also with your obvious concern about this issue. We hope that more people become concerned.

  21. Anne Thompson December 16, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I heard on Macca’s programme last Sunday, a lady rang to say her son was desparately try to get his crops off before the water was released. Her main point was how many people rallied to help, but this should NOT have been necessary. There are enough flooded areas without beaurocratic flooding. Don’t these people have ANY common sense?

  22. Matthew December 16, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    “Mat and the Poly are clearly much more concerned about the reputations of their mates, the bureaucrats, than they are about people or the environment.”

    No, I want somebody to actually supply some facts, and stop speculating then crying foul when they’re contradicted by “the bureaucrats”.

    When you actually know how much water was released, and why, and when, then I think you’ll be in a good position to take a swing at “the bureaucrats”. But you don’t. You are simply guessing. And you’ll KEEP guessing until the facts do become available, at which time you’ll quietly change the subject and move on.

  23. Ron Pike December 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Hi Everyone,
    Well we really do have a flood of misinformation flowing around don’t we.
    I have been out of the office for some time and just catching up and read the Aus report of statements attributed to Tery Charlton, so lets start with those.
    “Terry Charlton confirmed that thousands of litres of water were dumped into—–‘
    The amount of water we are talking about is well over 2,000,000,000,000 litres which is just slightly more than Mr. Charltons thousands of litres.
    The 2088 gigalitres to which Charlton refers is the long standing agreement for discharges to the Murray and Murrumbidgee.
    Nothing new there.
    Which can be released at their discression as noted by Phil Costa. Costa is correct in this.

    Mr. Charlton’s claim that the releases last week were unrelated to the license and were,”due to excessive rainfall and flooding filling the Snowy’s lower storages. ‘
    This is a fabrication.
    No it is a blatant lie.
    The lowest storage dam (that is dams built to hold large amounts of water for release in dryer times) in the Snowy Scheme is Eucumbene Dam.
    There are numerous smaller dams below Eucumbene but these are all there simply to maintain head for power generation and play no real part in the storage of water.
    Blowering dam was built as part of the Snowy scheme to store water prior to release for irrigation and is controlled by NSW Water.
    Not by Snowy Hydro.
    When Charlton claims that by Thursday of last week”we were chockers.”
    He is lying.
    Eucumbene is only 27% full.
    He is also talking “tripe” when he claims that to have not released water could have risked infrastructure damage.
    To which dams Mr. Charlton?
    This whole report, if it is factual and it appears to be, shows a Bureaucrat who believes he can say anything to get the press off his bak and cover-up a scandaous situation.
    While headlines that S.H. added to the flooding are eye-catching and make good copy, that is not the basic issue here.
    What we have is a situation where after 12 years of drought during which there were times when the whole system was very short of water; one year after we have had above average inflows, what do we have?
    The biggest dam and the heart of the whole lower Basin system with 8% less water in it than at the same time last year.
    This water has been used to make hydro power because NSW and Vic. are short of generating capacity.
    This water has been flushed to the sea, because the holding dams(Blowering and Hume were full.)
    This water was the stream flow and irrigation water for the next dry time, possibly next year.
    It is gone.
    The whole purpose of the Snowy Scheme was to intercept water that would otherwisw flow to the south east and store it for release to the west when required.
    The production of hydro power was a by-oroduct and a means of paying off the large capex required to build it.
    As early as 1815 the administrators of the Colony recognised that any permanent settlement to the west of the ranges would be reliant on systems of water conservation.
    Poly, do us all a favour and go and read some details on how the Snowy works before going-off half-cocked.
    Much of what you are saying is simlly false.
    There is no doubt that all of the dams and associated structures are in the correct and most appropiate place.
    The system has worked perfectly for over 40 years until quite recently when a multitude of both State and Federal Bureaucracies have been put in place all trying to make use of the same water.
    The present situation is untenable.

  24. Polyaulax December 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Pikey,please detail the “much of what I say is false”. That’s a big charge. I’m using publicly available statistics to try an estimate the volumes/dates/proportions of all the elements in the picture in order to avoid going off half-cocked! If you genuinely have to ask Terry Charlton which infrastructure was at risk,you can hardly rule his statement of that risk is ‘tripe’!

    I find trying to get at the story through the news media a struggle. The media often fail the coherence test on stories involving numbers,and they are lazy researchers. They like to push the controversial angle,and know that they are unlikely to be held accountable for BS. I don’t want to chose any party’s BS over anothers,I want the unalloyed facts.

    It certainly seems like Terry Charlton has been less than forthcoming about SHs role,and he was certainly economical with the truth over SHs contribution to the spilling,on that we agree. But the SH’s Eucumbene derived component of the Murrumbidgee flood remains very minor.

  25. Jennifer Marohasy December 16, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Ron, I’m told that Lake Eucumbene is actually at 20 percent of active capacity i.e. from minimum operating level to full supply level.


  1. Jennifer Marohasy » Official Seasonal Forecasts Wrong Again - December 23, 2010

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