Snowy Hydro Still in Denial: Ben Glover

SNOWY Hydro has denied playing a role in exacerbating this month’s devastating floods despite a leaked document which appears to show that the authority released almost 7000 megalitres from Eucumbene Dam on December 8 – causing water levels to rise to peaks of close to 10 metres downstream in the Murrumbidgee.

Any water release from Eucumbene, floods or no floods, has raised eyebrows among a number of farmers and politicians, specifically because it is just over 20 per cent full, and Riverina MP Michael McCormack has labelled it “a disgrace”.

“It’s totally ridiculous to think that any dam would be releasing water when it’s nowhere near its capacity,” Mr McCormack said. “It’s totally incomprehensible that this would happen.”

The document in question, obtained by The Daily Advertiser this week, maps the inflows and outflows from each of the major dams on December 8 and is known as an operational plan.

It was initially sourced from a Snowy Hydro staff member concerned with the disregard shown for communities downstream.

Snowy Hydro has since rejected the veracity of the document however, explaining that it was just a “forecast model”, which was changed so that the floods downstream could be mitigated for.

The company has refused however, to provide the actual operational plan for December 8, citing “commercial in confidence”.

Snowy Hydro’s role in the floods was last week called into question by a number of media outlets and on December 15, metropolitan newspapers reported Snowy Hydro CEO Terry Charlton’s claims that the authority had not released any water on December 8.

“What we did last week, because we anticipated the floods, is we stopped releasing anything on Wednesday,” Mr Charlton said.

“So we took as much as possible into storage to mitigate the floods.

“But by Thursday and Friday we didn’t have the capacity to store it because we were chockers.”
A spokesman for Snowy Hydro has this week maintained Mr Charlton’s defence.
“We’ve already commented on these assertions and we have nothing further to add to what was in the Sydney press last week,” the spokesman said.

Tumut mayor Trina Thomson lives near the river and very nearly had to evacuate her home during the peak of the floods. She has called for Snowy Hydro to make available any data that could paint a clearer picture as to why the floods got to the level they did.

“I’d appreciate some transparency considering we have a number of landholders impacted on by the recent flood,” Cr Thomson said. “I think there are some grey areas that have to be clarified.”

Member for Murrumbidgee Adrian Piccoli, Wagga MP Daryl Maguire and NSW Opposition spokeswoman for water Katrina Hodgkinson were also strong in their views that Snowy Hydro should release all relevant data, but the office of the NSW Water Minister, Phillip Costa, refused to buy into the debate, saying only that they “would not comment on hypotheticals”.

Instead they brushed the issue aside to be dealt with by the NSW Office of Water, which sent a generic statement.  “Snowy Hydro operates within the conditions of its operating licence
and the NSW Office of Water ensures compliance,” the statement said.

“In response to a recent five-year licence review, both Snowy Hydro and the NSW Office of Water have increased the amount of information on operations available on their websites.”

Update: This article is now available on the website of The Daily Advertiser: http://www.dailyadvertiser.com.au/news/local/news/general/snowy-hydro-under-fire-over-water-release/2032134.aspx 

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Ben Glover from The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga is the only person to have asked me directly for a copy of the Operational Plan.   Staff at both The Australian and the Australian Financial Review are aware of the story, aware of the leaked document, but so far have not followed-up or indicated that if I sent them a copy of the Operational Plan they may be too busy to follow-up or are about to go on Christmas holidays and couldn’t study it until January 5.   Prolific commentator at this blog, Polyaulax, has not  followed-up by asking for a copy of the document by phone or email.

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11 Responses to Snowy Hydro Still in Denial: Ben Glover

  1. Debbie December 22, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Good for you Jennifer and also good on Ben Glover for following up. Hopefully this story will not be squashed because of Christmas and also because of the regurgitation of mindless “twaddle” by bureaucratic and political departments.
    As I have posted elswhere on this blog, I have recently had the opportunutiy to see the floods in the Riverina. It is quite spectacular.
    The tragedy is that our water authorities have continued to use legislation they put in place in the middle of the drought and they have wasted an incredible amount of money and water because of their “operating licence” of which NOW “ensures compliance” ? WOW! that’s a good excuse for wastage! That’s also an amazing excuse for dumping extra water on top of a flood!
    Maybe they should have concentrated on “saving” the water and the money instead of trying to “save” the environment and also mindlessly sticking to their rules?
    Anyone who has been out there lately can assure you that “the environment” doesn’t need any help at the moment thanks! They can also tell you that it is comlpetely ridiculous to be putting any water through the system for any reason at all.
    I don’t know about anyone else but I cannot abide the wilful waste of any precious resource. It’s particularly annoying because these people are actually getting paid to waste it.
    One of the major victims here is “common sense”. Did these people tip that into the floods as well?

  2. Robert December 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    “…we stopped releasing anything on Wednesday…”

    That’s not the same as saying “we did not release anything on Wednesday”.

    But I think he may know that already.

  3. Jennifer Marohasy December 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Hi Robert
    He told me, when we spoke on the phone, that he thought they stopped releasing from Eucumbene on Thursday or Friday. The storm was on Thursday.
    Wednesday, as the operational plan shows, it was business as usual.

  4. Polyaulax December 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    This is poor journalism,pure and simple. While I fully support calls from more details, and deplore Snowy Hydro’s unwillingness to oblige, there IS information available to clear the picture a great deal.

    This Advertiser story is wildly wrong with the use of figures,such that it mentions any in anything other than an imprecise way. If I can use the Office of Water interface,then Ben Glover can..and he should have. There is no way to justify Glover’s claim that Snowy Hydro water caused the “..water levels to rise to close to 10m downstream in the Murrumbidgee.” That implies that SH water was a major factor in the flood. I have already demonstrated at length that it isn’t.

    Tumut flows peaked at differing times to the much bigger Murrumbidgee flows,and have had very little to contribute to the main flood peak all the way downstream,even considering a 3,450 ML/day contribution from Eucumbene. On the 30th of November,a pulse of Tumut and Adjungbilly Creek water carried almost 30 GL/day peak into the larger river which was carrying a similar flow. This was the only time the Tumut was a significant contributor to the Murrumbidgee,which subsequently became swollen with water from its own catchment. This pulse would have been past Gundagai before the big flood By first December ,the Murrumbidgee plateaued at 7m/60 GL/day at Gundagai. That is enough to get Morleys Creek,an overflow channel, running and maybe put a little water into the lower parts of the golf course,but essentially the river is confined to the main channel. I repeat,the flood peak at Gundagai was made up of diminishing amounts of Tumut water. The ratio at peak was about 30GL of Tumut water to 250 GL Murrumbidgee water..and the funny thing is half of that Tumut water was from flash-flooding of Adjungbilly Creek,the last major tributary of the Tumut River,and one that is entirely unregulatable. [Info from comparison of stream gauges at Brungle Bridge and Darbalara]

    The Murrumbidgee then commenced [from1/12/2010] its rise to major flood level,but by this time the Tumut’s little pulse had passed and the Tumut was dropping while the big flows were coming down from Burrinjuck. As well,north bank tributaries Muttama Creek and Jugiong Creek were putting very significant amounts into the Murrumbidgee between Burrinjuck and Gundagai,greater than the Tumut’s quota!

    The flood peak of 10.2m at Gundagai was on the 4th of December,4 days before the Euc. transfer shut-off event. The river dropped back to 5m [minor flood level is 6.1m] over the next few days,and peaked again at 9m on the 11th. This second peak and tail away represented a greater proportion of Tumut water than the first,but would have contained a diminishing fraction from Snowy Hydro,who had ceased Tumut transfers by midnight on the 8/12. Once again,though the second peak was dominated by Murrumbidgee water with new major inputs from Muttama and Jugiong Creeks.

    The flood peak at Wagga was on December 5th at around 9.7m, with a secondary peak of about 9.2m on the 13th…..so the major flood peak came mainly from the Murrumbidgee when Burrinjuck Dam spilled. The river at Glendale,just downstream from that dam, reached the highest level recorded since the gauge was established in the mid-1950s

    Another factor contributing to the flood downstream from Gundagai has been completely ignored.

    The contributions of the major south bank tributaries: Adelong Creek, Hillas Creek, Tarcutta Creek and Kyeamba Creek all carried major floods into the ‘bidgee. Billabong Creek flooded in from the north. All these streams are unregulated. All contributed to the first flood peak,but particularly to the second peak at Wagga on the 13th and the slow drop from then.Collectively ,they put well over 100,000 ML of water into the Murrumbidgee from the start of December up to the flood peak at Wagga

    And of course the “almost 7000ML” was split equally between the Murray and the Tumut. So Ben has this simple point plain wrong.

  5. Polyaulax December 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    There is another way to simply put a reasonably tight bound around Snowy Hydro’s ‘naughty but legal’ contribution to the flood: simply examine total accumulated flows at Oddy’s Bridge on the Tumut immediately below Blowering Dam,and total accumulated flows at Gundagai and/or Wagga (these latter two figures are rather similar because the Murrumbidgee flows faster at Gundagai than at Wagga so a greater volume can potentially pass per unit time)

    First assume SH was putting roughly 3.5GL/day of Eucumbene transfers from the start of December. Jen should tell us how safe an assumption this is.

    From the 1/12/ to 10/12/2010 [allow a day for Eucumbene factor to pass through] 90 GL of water passed Oddy’s Bridge. 10 days of Eucumbene transfer=35GL. So 55GL of Blowering discharge came from catchment runoff.

    Offsetting two days for the passage of water from Oddy’s to Wagga,from 3/12 to 13/12,the date of the second flood peak at Wagga,close to 1150 GL of water passed Wagga Wagga gauge.

    35GL is a fraction over 3% of 1150GL. So assumptions of major impacts from Gundagai downstream are very dubious.

  6. Robert December 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    “…causing water levels to rise to peaks of close to 10 metres downstream in the Murrumbidgee.”

    Ben, the word “causing” does mislead and sensationalise. You could say that I caused a flood to rise by spitting. Technically true, but the floods of western NSW surely were due to heavy rain over a huge area, nothing else.

    But I do greatly appreciate Ben’s efforts. Dealing with SH and the NSW water people must be like doing the butterfly in molasses – or trying to get Julia Gillard to admit to saying something she said publicly five minutes ago. If necessary, SH will claim the dingo ate their data.

    Having been in a major flood, I’m aware that water comes from everywhere. I would also assume that flooding in western NSW would be broad, not high. What needs to be known is:

    1. Was stored water wasted, in any substantial amount?
    2. Was water, in any substantial amount, released into the flood zone for revenue or contractual obligations, not from strict hydrological necessity?

    It would be nice if the answers were “no”, and if the answers were true, without spin or verbal stunts of any kind.

  7. Polyaulax December 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Tumut mayor Trina Thomson’s request for a detailed breakdown of the latest flood should be met by Snowy Hydro. It would also be interesting to know exactly where Trina’s property by the river is…if it’s in town or downstream/upstream..because of course the relative contribution of SH water varies with this position.

    There is enough public data to make a few observations. Before the latest flood the Tumut was running at about 10 GL/day past the town.A third of this was Eucumbene transfer,if these had been underway from the start of the month. The river was running at about 1.5m at the gauge,50cm below minor flood level.

    By looking at the timings of the peaks at various gauges,it seems that the first and highest peak [c 2.85m] at the Tumut town gauge (early afternoon 9/12) came from the Goobarragandra’s intense peak(seen in the late morning at Lacmalac) on top of the bank-full and rising Tumut,which contributed maybe half the total volume at that time[c.26 GL/day max] The Goobarragandra is the Tumut’s largest tributary,joining the main stream a few km up from the town and a pretty similar distance downstream of Blowering. Once the Blowering and Goobarra contributions are subtracted from the Tumut gauge there are a few GLs left probably sourced from the ungauged catchment of a few hundred km2. But the Goobarra was the main culprit.

    The reason I say this is because the overflow from Blowering had only started to increase on the 9/12,and did not peak until midnight 10/12.This increasing contribution from Blowering was responsible for the second lower hump seen on the Tumut gauge early on the 11/12 [c 2.5m,21.5 GL/day],a time when the Goobarragandra was falling. So the first peak was rather less of the outflow from Blowering than the second.

    Flooding below Tumut was exacerbated by a big surge from Gilmore Creek,which joins the river at the north end of the town,and synchronous near-flash flooding from all tributaries downstream to the Murrumbidgee.

  8. Robert December 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    Just a note to Ben and Jen. In analogising, I was not implying that the possible RAR contribution was a spit. Just a few percent added to a catastrophic flood is certainly an exacerbation.

    Then there’s the issue of morale. When your town or region is in the middle of a big flood, doing all the sandbagging, evacuating, salvaging etc, you don’t want to know that someone further up is just ditching water into the system because it’s what they do.

  9. John Sayers December 23, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    as I said before – this was not a major event for the residents of Tumut, just a typical flood. The Caravan park on the Tumut river was disrupted as it is every year when it floods. I’ve camped there and I recommend to to all especially at this time of the year.

    No doubt the SH contribution was there, but to the locals apparently it went unnoticed.

  10. Bronson December 24, 2010 at 8:27 am #

    Simple question poly have you asked for/obtained a copy of the operational plan? Yes or no – if no why not?

  11. Polyaulax December 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Simple answer,Bronson…Xmas.Things to do! I’m not sure I need the document anyway,as well…Oh,and why hasn’t Jen simply posted the details here if they’re so juicy and clearly damning? Merry Xmas!

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