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
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.