How much water did Snowy Hydro release from Lake Eucumbene during the floods?

THE managing director of Snowy Hydro, Terry Charlton, denies that Snowy Hydro contributed to the devastating flooding along the Murrumbidgee in early December in which homes were destroyed and wheat fields drown.  He does, however, admit that until Wednesday, December 8, water was being released from Lake Eucumbene.  

Lake Eucumbene has the capacity to store the equivalent of nine Sydney Harbours and was at only 25 percent capacity. 

A chart, recently provided to me by a Snowy Hydro staff member,  shows the extent to which lake levels were falling early December.  

During just one 24 hour period, between 8th and 9th December, lakes levels fell six centimetres which is equivalent to 6,000 megalitres of water being released. 

That is a lot of water; enough water to provide all of Melbourne’s water needs for one week, or grow 5,000 tonnes of rice.  

And yet according to Mr Charlton no water was released from Lake Eucumbene during that 24 hour period.  

In The Australian newspaper on December 15, journalists Samantha Maiden and Lauren Wilson reported that Federal Water Minister Tony Burke and a spokeswoman for the NSW Office of Water also denied any water was release by Snowy Hydro except from overflowing lower storages because of excessive rainfall and flooding. 

The chart of lake levels and an operational plan for Snowy Hydro for December 9th, also provided to me by a staff member, however, indicate that very significant quantities of water were released from Lake Eucumbene.

The communities of the Riverina deserve to know the truth.  

Snowy Hydro must make public all the documentation that they hold on all water releases, and also all inflows, for Lake Eucumbene for November and December 2010.   Only then will we know the extent to which Snowy Hydro contributed to the flooding – or not.


Previous posts on this issue can be found by scrolling down here:

The comment thread on this blog post was closed at 12noon on January 05.  There will be more posts on this issue providing opportunity for more comment.


39 Responses to How much water did Snowy Hydro release from Lake Eucumbene during the floods?

  1. Graham Young January 4, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Jen, apart from the dishonesty of the officials involved, the critical question appears to be how much this release would have increased the flood height and what damage this may have done. Any data on that? Or am I not reading your articles closely enough?

  2. Debbie January 4, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Good on you for keeping this issue highlighted Jen.
    I believe it is a graphic demonstration of the flawed philosophy behind current water policy and water management.
    Our water authorities have broken the number one rule for water conservation, water storage and water management in Australia.
    That rule is very simply:
    We must store and conserve water in times of excess so that we can manage this extremely precious resource in the inevitable times of shortage.

    What has happened is that our water authorities have dumped water on top of a minor flood and then on top of a major flood into dams that are out of control, into a river that doesn’t need it, through environmental assets that were already completely flooded and out to sea over barrages that were already spewing tens of thousands of megalitres every single day.

    Maybe we should ask how they think they have helped the environment by doing this?

    Maybe we should ask how they will be able to help the environment in the next few years if they have already dumped over 500,000 megalitres into a system that doesn’t need it this year?

    Maybe we should ask a lot of questions…not just how much extra damage they may have caused in the recent floods.

    They should not have put one single mega litre on top of an uncontrollable system, that has to be stupid and dangerous.
    Doesn’t it?

  3. Ian Mott January 4, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Graham, this has been thrashed out repeatedly on the posts below and at Jo Nova’s. And the short answer is “diddly squat”. Depending on the flood width and rate of flow, these releases contributed between half a millimetre to a few centimetres at best. The previously quoted daily release of 6912 ML (80m3/sec) was split between the Murrumbidgee and the Murray so I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Jen is now making much ado about 6000ML. Follow the thread from post 31 onwards to see how the facts had to navigate through the rhetoric.

    And Jennifer, can you explain how you obtained a figure of 6000Ml volume from a 6cm drop in water level at Lake Eucumbene?

  4. Jennifer Marohasy January 4, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Graham,

    I can’t tell you what the flood height might have been and there were several floods over a period of weeks: floods along the Tumut, Murray, Murrumbidgee and unrelated flooding at Quenbeyan. And neither can any expert start to calculate flood heights under different scenarios for different times and localities until they have the relevant information. And at the moment Snowy Hydro is refusing to release this information on the basis of commercial in confidence.

    And probably the more important issue, more important even than flooding, is that water has been lost that could now be in storage. Water that could be used to save red gums during the next drought.

    There is the issue of topping up a flood, but there is also the issue that there will be no water in the central storage reservoir when it stops raining because instead of storing water ie. running water down the tunnels to Lake Eucumbene, Snowy Hydro has had the tunnels flowing in the reverse direction.

    Lance Endersbee, if he was still alive, would be appalled. The system was built for flexibility – for water management and water storage and Lake Eucumbene is central to this. Water should be stored during times of flood and then there will be water when the next drought hits. Snowy Hydro has wasted this potential over recent months.

    Snowy Hydro was probably releasing water from Lake Eucumbene through October and November and also early December. We do not know how much.

    To quote from an email I received this morning

    “As an interesting figure….the average RAR debt that has been getting released since at least early August is 4,500 ML per day.

    ….that equates to approx 680,000 ML that have been tipped onto a minor flood and then onto a major flood.

    While this was happening, NOW had completely jammed up the lower dams, Burrunjuck, Blowering and Hume with water that they were required to keep because of emergency drought legislation passed in 2007/08 even though they no longer needed to do so.

    An alarming amount of that stored water was “interstate water” (AKA SA Water) as well as “Private Accounts” (AKA SA Water plus Carry over plus operational and carryover and traded water)….that’s right…SA water featured twice in the dam clogging….actually probably 3 times because a heap of that traded water was South Australian as well. They refused to do anything about shifting this water until after November because their “Lowest Inflow Sequence” Data occurs in OCT and NOV 2006. I can forward you the explanation from NOW that covers some of this if you like?

    By November this year it was way too late to do anything to try and save water or even help to mitigate the flooding….the rivers were already in flood and the dams had been spilling for weeks.

    An average of 4,500 ML per day equates to the average YEARLY allocation of 23 irrigators every single week. So they have TRASHED the yearly allocation of approximately 500 irrigators for no particularly good reason! This is water we will not be able to have next season.”[end of quote]

    In the first instance Snowy Hydro need to release the detailed data they have for inflows and also releases from Lake Eucumbene.

  5. Jennifer Marohasy January 4, 2011 at 10:26 am #


    I disagree with most of what you have written in the above thread. Also, issues of principle are important. As is saving water during periods of flood for use during periods of drought.

    But appreciate your comment and in particular your query, and to answer that:

    I have been advised that 1 cm equals 1 gigalitres at that lake level.

    The x axis is Eucumbene levels in metres above sea level.

    And some stats:
    1. Minimum Operating Level (MOL): RL 1116.8m
    2. Full Supply Level (FSL): RL 1164.95m
    3. Surface area @ FSL: 14 500ha
    4. Gross capacity: 4798.4Gl
    5. Active capacity: 4366.5Gl

    And, now a favour please Ian, could you please check the following comments from me:

    6,0000 megs is “enough water to provide all of Melbourne’s water needs for one week, or grow 5,000 tonnes of rice.”

    I came up with those equivalents at about midnight last night. Someone should check them?

  6. Jennifer Marohasy January 4, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Also Ian, Aren’t you just a little curious to know just how much Snowy Hydro released over the last 3-6 months from Lake Eucumbene? And isn’t it a neat chart? Imagine if we had this information for all of 2010. And you can hardly dismiss the importance of Snowy water for the system… didn’t snowy water make up about 60 percent of flows to the Murrumbidgee over the last decade or so?

  7. Jenny Madden January 4, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I am a humble resident of the riverina, who is a victim of the October flood. I would like an expert to tell me why more dams is not the solution to this problem? It would seem that this part of Australia experiences a wet year like 2010 about every 15-20 years – such is the recent history around Wagga Wagga. It is also my understanding that dams fill in these wet years, and the rivers are revitalised. Wouldn’t more dams provide more water for the dry times?

  8. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    This is going over old ground. The daily releases were dwarfed by natural flows mainly generated outside the Snowy dams,and uncheckable by an already spilling Burrinjuck Dam. The flood had peaked at Gundagai before any of this Eucumbene water could have contributed.

    From the end of winter Eucumbene gained about 350GL, Tantangara gained over 100GL,and Jindabyne about 170GL,all while power generation needs and water distribution obligations were met.

    Your chart shows that Eucumbene dropped about 18cm over five days from midnight 3/12/10. Does that make about 18GL divided between the Murray and Murrumbidgee over five days? 9GL into the Tumut system/5 days. Blowering Dam discharged about 60GL in that period. The Gobarragandra River added another 16GL or so. So Eucumbene added about 10% to the volume passing Tumut for the five days to end 9/12. The Tumut River only reached minor flood level on the morning of 9/12. Meanwhile downstream,the Murrumbidgee peaked at Gundagai on the 4/12/10,largely from its own catchment runoff,and between 3/12 and 10/12 about 900GL went past. SH’s contribution? Possibly one percent of volume.

    Snowy Hydro has the brief and the right to generate hydro power. What people are implicitly demanding here is that they suspended or curtailed generation. Discuss.

  9. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    As an interesting side note,about 1800GL of water passed Gundagai for the month of December 2010.

    That volume of water just passed Rockhampton in less than a day and a half.

  10. Debbie January 4, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I’m not positive, but, I was of the understanding that they can produce electricity and then pump the water back into Eucumbene if they so choose?
    Wasn’t the system set up to make it possible to re use the water for power generation rather than just sending it on down to overflowing dams?

  11. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Deb,the only dedicated pump-storage function is at Tumut 3,where water can be recycled from Jounama Pondage up to Talbingo Reservoir. Water used for generation at Guthega can be sent on to Eucumbene or pumped back up from Jindabyne for another ‘go’,though it’s most likely to be sent west by gravity through Murrays 1,2 and 3.

    Conceivably,Jindabyne could be used for a future pump-storage facility with a new system based on an upper reservoir near The Meadows on the Eucumbene Road. There’s at least 250m of head to be had. There’s a free idea for SH ;),though it would make Jindabyne jump up and down a bit!

  12. Debbie January 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Why didn’t they at least do that?
    How much power could they generate that way and then not send any water at all down to the overflowing dams?
    Was it necessary to send 4 to 5000 megs a day to the full dams to generate power or not?
    Or…could they have generated what they needed and left the water in Eucumbene?
    Sorry to keep asking questions but something doesn’t seem to be adding up here.
    I will ask my earlier questions too.
    Wouldn’t it be better to save the water this year so that it can be used wisely in future dry years?
    Even if they could have avoided putting one megalitre onto an uncontrollable system wouldn’t that have been a safer and smarter choice?

  13. David Joss January 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    My understanding is that this water was released on environmental grounds.
    If, as Ian asserts, the increased flow made “diddly squat” difference to the flood peak, what possible good could it have done for the environment?
    On the other hand, had it been stored, as was the original intent of those building the dam, it would have been available at a later date for irrigation which does make a positive contribution to the environment as well as to the economies of farming communities.
    It boils down to mismanagement of an asset for which those responsible should be held to account.

  14. Dennis Webb January 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Ian and Poly are going over old ground. Not our Jen.
    Jen has presented compelling NEW EVIDENCE.
    Jen will NEXT have the INFLOWS for Eucumbene.
    Poly, what about telling us now: HOW FULL COULD EUCUMBENE BE????

  15. Debbie January 4, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Thanks David,
    That’s my understanding too.
    So what’s this stuff about power Poly?
    Could they have generated the power they needed without releasing the RAR debt or not? And if they could, why didn’t they do it that way?
    If Poly doesn’t know….does anybody else know?

  16. Debbie January 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Did you all see this?
    Maybe some people are starting to get their heads around the actual dilemna?
    I certainly hope so.

  17. el gordo January 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    From that Oz story, a view which I totally agree with.

    ‘Burke must fully review the Murray Darling Basin Plan and put an immediate end to any further water buybacks. It’s time for our politicians to look at nation-building solutions for our water needs and not the money wasting non-solutions that we have seen in the recent past.’

    Robert Danieli, Goulburn Valley Water Action Group, Kyabram, Vic

  18. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    It comes down to Snowy Hydro’s operating remit. To re-cast the conditions and aims of operation to compel storage for irrigation above all else is a profound change,and of course would affect the whole direction and commercial value of a privatised SH.. In order for SH to operate privately,conventional thinking grants them confidence over important information that the community feels strongly entitled to.

    Further to reprioritising Snowy Scheme operation,it has to be remembered that the whole Snowy scheme delivers a lot of extra water to the west by taking 99% of the Snowy River’s flow at Jindabyne, and pinching maybe 15% of the Murrumbidgee’s flow from Burrinjuck’s catch,and sending it [or a portion of it] via the Tumut,saving a lot of in-stream losses. The Scheme puts a floor under base flows of the western streams,while often keeping minor flood events from impacting the flats. So the glass is more half full than half empty at any time. We also have state operated Blowering,Burrinjuck and Hume full for the first time in a while,5600GL of storage between them, Dartmouth is up towards 60%,which is another 2100GL. This puts a questionable few gigalitres into perspective.

  19. Ron Pike January 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Yes, we are going over old ground and this was never a story about increased flooding, except in the minds of a few journalists.
    It is about a flagrant waste of water to keep the lights on in Sydney and Melbourne.
    This nonsense is continuing and this is the real story that we should be concentrating on.

    it does take about 6 megs of water to produce 5 tonnes of rice.
    However in relation to river red gums, we do not need to ever artificailly water them.
    This course of action just wastes water, money and time and often results in killed trees.
    These old trees are adapted to live for decades without floods and there are many examples throughout the MDB where this can be shown, as well as areas where good intentions have killed many trees.

    Poly is correct that the only place water is pumped back uphill is from Jounama into Talbingo and only when there is effectively free excess power in the system; mostly late at night.
    We need to all appreciate that otherwise this is an uneconomic process and also involves very small quantities of water.
    Once water is released from Eucumbene it has to run through the turbines of the power stations to either the Tumut river or the Murray river.
    It cannot go anywhere else.
    If Blowering and Hume dams are full it all runs to the sea to waste.
    There are NO storages below these relatively up-river dams.
    That is the scandal we are looking at.

  20. debbie January 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Sorry everyone,
    I’m still confused and 2 plus 2 is not adding up to 4 for me.

    Was that RAR debt environmental water or wasn’t it?
    If it wasn’t, did they deliberately waste water to produce power or didn’t they?
    If that’s what happened, why did they lie about it?

    I also agree with Dennis.
    As much as I totally respect Ian and Poly’s ability to process data and once again I have to loudly proclaim that Ian Mott’s submission to the MDBA was excellent, I mean really excellent, I hope you all read it
    We are not going over old ground here.
    There are some serious questions about wastage and the purpose behind the RAR debt releases that have not been answered.
    These questions are at the heart of what is so obviously wrong with the mindset behind current water policy.
    Every water dept we can think of had their hand in this somewhere: ie NOW, SHL, MINCO and MDBA.
    To coin a phrase of Ian Mott’s:
    For Fox Ache what on earth is going on here?

  21. Ian Mott January 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    The scandal of all scandals is happening right now at the mouth of every river in flood. The Fitzroy is the second largest catchment in the country and it has no significant storage and there is still a moratorium on new on-farm storage. The new Wyaralong Dam in SEQ cost $2,692 per megalitre of storage capacity. And on that benchmark a farmer would only need to run a 400m length of one metre high bund around a single square hectare of flat paddock, (storing 10ML) for a cost less than $26,920, and he would be operating below what the public sector thinks is an acceptable storage cost.

    Yes, even on that minor scale, with a bund of 3m2 cross section, and only shifting a total of 1200m3 of soil, he would be at public sector break even point at $22/m3. At that price an excavator costing $120/hour would only need to shift 5 bucket loads an hour, or one scoop (1m3) every 12 minutes. Enlarge the storage to 10ha and 100ML of storage, involving a square bund of 1300 metres length and 4000m3 of soil and the public sector standard cost would be $269,200. The cost per m3 of soil shifted could blow out to $67/m3 and the farmer would still be cheaper and that would involve the excavator moving only 2 buckets an hour.

    I won’t boor you with the numbers for a 100ha storage of 1000ML capacity, or any variations on this theme where natural features or deeper storage could reduce the volume of soil to be shifted. The key fact is that the farming community could fix these flood problems themselves, and make good tax paying income doing it, and create valuable habitat, and provide reliable water to downstream users in a free market, IF GOVERNMENTS WOULD JUST PULL THEIR MORONIC HEADS IN.

    Government incompetence and government degradation of properly regulated but freely functioning markets has ALWAYS been the core problem. But here we are, wanking on about piddly southern water volumes when an entire inland sea is on the move in central Qld.

  22. debbie January 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Thanks Ian,
    You are of course right, the scandal is huge.
    I’m not sure those of us affected severely by the “piddly” southern water volumes would entirely agree with that point.
    I believe there are at least 50,000 megs a day belting over the SA barrages. Is that right?
    It’s actually the same problem isn’t it?
    Don’t forget the number of livelihoods that are being directly affected by this profligate waste all over the country. Those pidly volumes of water are actually volumes that could be wisely used next season if they weren’t being wasted.
    Shouldn’t they at least manage the dams they have properly?
    If they are not at least forced to do that what hope do we have of fixing the rest of this huge problem?

  23. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    How full would Eucumbene be,Dennis? Well,take out that dip in the graph and smooth it on to the curve going forward. Not much extra.

    How much power came from Eucumbene releases? Well,I don’t know…but 40 cumecs [the half transfer to each system] is about 40% of the transfer tunnel capacities if I remember my figures accurately [Eucumbene-Tumut has a slightly bigger capacity than Eucumbene-Murray]. Does this suggest that for each string of generators to be fully watered,the remaining 60% of flows were sourced directly from the western dams and aqueducts?

    Ron,I don’t think storages down lower are the way. They will be shallow and lose a lot to evaporation,and/or have meagre yields from the remaining small catchments d/s of Gundagai with lower rainfalls. I’d raise Blowering,or even build a new dam a few km downstream near Jones bridge that could use the considerable capacity of a couple of left-bank tributary valleys,Basin Creek being one of them. Biggish project,but could add even another 30%/500 GL capacity at a guess.

    Raise Burrinjuck,which is a brilliant site. An extra two metres depth would probably win another 250 GL. Sacrifice Wee Jasper and there is more to be had. Losses to local agricultural production would be trivial.

  24. Dennis Webb January 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Poly, When it comes to balancing an account, do you only count up the amount of money spent, and exclude all inflows?

  25. debbie January 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Excellent question Dennis,
    It would be extremely handy to know those inflow figures.
    Also Ian,
    I hope you realise that I feel strongly about what’s happening in QLD.
    It is a huge scandal.
    The solutions are not that difficult but I wonder if this has been enough to force the hand of your “MORONIC GOVERNMENTS”?
    I suspect if we stay on this story as well as QLD and demonstrate that the problem exists all over the place and that it needs to be fixed, we may get somewhere?
    The whole of the MDB and much of other areas in QLD have been in flood at least twice this year and most of the water has gone to waste.
    This is indeed a huge scandal.
    The MDBA’s main theory about water management and giving water back to the environment is to put stored water onto the back of floods and to flush it out the mouth of the rivers.
    Well there you go.
    Haven’t they done a great job of that this year?
    As you have pointed out, their attempts have been “diddly squat”.
    All they have managed to do is waste water.
    In the process they have made some questionable and dangerous choices and solved absolutely nothing.
    As Pikey and Jen have tried to point out…this is the real story.
    Maybe “MORONIC” is too kind a term?

    Also…can someone more qualified than I am please point out to Poly the paradox in his “evaporation/losses” argument?
    Don’t forget the massive evaporation losses at Menindee and at Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong and also at other “choke points” as you explain it to him.
    Isn’t some evaporation from extensive storage better than no storage at all?

  26. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    Well,Dennis, I’m making the assumption that if the transfer was stopped the graph would follow the trajectory of the slope pre the 4/12 and we’d gain 18GL over the five days instead of lose them. Hence my comment ‘not much’. However,there are so many unknowns that go to make up that trajectory.

    Can we tell from that graph that inflows exceeded extractions up til the 4/12,assuming there were any extractions at all?.

    Then from the 4/12 did five days of draw-down exceed inflows, before SH shut off the ‘tap’ ?

    The interesting day is the 10th. The dam gained 25cm in 24 hours of the 10/12. Is that the day that can tell us the absolute-or closer to the absolute- filling potential of Eucumbene during that regional flood, with only diversions into the dam from the west,plus the contributions of its own catchment and the tunnel from Tantangara [1.47GL/day max]? Supposedly one centimetre represents a gigalitre at that dam height. Is 1GL/hr inflow from all sources possible? Yes…but we still don’t know how to cut the cake. How much on the 10th from Eucumbene River,how much from western diversions?

    Does the 10/12 represent a day of extreme catchment inflow,more significant than the tunnel diversion inputs? It very well might,because over 100mm fell at Cabramurra on the 9-10/12, over 80mm at Mt Ginini,about 50mm at Adaminaby immediately to the east,and over 100mm at Perisher, this was the wettest day of the month in that region. This suggests the upper Eucumbene River catchment and much of the dam surface[very large] saw falls of 75 to 125mm that day, which fell on a saturated catchment. Maybe most of that 1 GL/hr did come from the immediate catchment,and a smaller fraction from western diversions at the behest of the chastened SH.

    We really would have to see tunnel flow figures in cumecs to tell.

    The maximum capacities of the tunnels is known,but at what capacity they are routinely operated I don’t know. If both tunnels were diverting to Eucumbene at full capacity they could shift about 17GL/day,just crudely calculating . Again,I don’t know if it is technically possible or feasible to do this.

  27. jennifer marohasy January 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    Snowy Hydro stopped releasing water from Lake Eucumbene on the 10th. That was the same day a storm front came in from the west.

  28. Ron Pike January 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    I have not been able to get either inflow or release figures for Eucumbene for some time.
    But my information from a Mate up there is that water is being released into both the Murray and Tumut every day for the production of much needed peak power requirements.
    Water for the future is now a secondary consideration.

  29. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    OK,Jen,but did they shut off the Eucumbene Portal outlet,or shut off the Tumut Pond one? That will decide whether Eucumbene received water from the west or not,while not contributing outflows from the east.

    Eucumbene -Tumut tunnel slopes to the west. It has ‘stoppers’ at each end. In the middle it is fed by gravity at Happy Jacks Shaft where upper Tumut/Happy Jacks River water can drop 90m into the tube. If the Eucumbene ‘stopper’ is closed then no water can enter from the west,leaving that (flood)water to stay within the Tumut catchment,exiting via the hydro system and also by stream flow. If the Tumut Pond ‘stopper’ is closed,water backs up the slight tunnel gradient back into Eucumbene with the Eucumbene ‘stopper’ open.

    This way potentially over 9GL/day can be backed into Eucumbene from the upper Tumut above Happy Jacks. The divertable catchment area at HJs is about 240km2. Anything above that water quantity will overflow down the Tumut River bed to Tumut pondage. If that 9GL is coming in from the upper Tumut, then the balance of the rise seen in Eucumbene on the 10th-15GL- was derived from within Eucumbene/Tantangara catchment and anything diverted up from Island Bend through the Eucumbene-Snowy tunnel.

  30. Jenny Madden January 4, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Cheers to Ron Pike – we read your article in the Daily Advertiser last month and it was such a revelation. If ‘Water for the future is now a secondary consideration’ is the case – doesn’t that make the case for dams down further even more important?

  31. Polyaulax January 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    Pikey,all the stream gauging within the boundary of the Snowy Scheme is ‘commercially sensitive’ information. Same goes for Vic Hydro and Tasmania.

  32. Ian Mott January 5, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    Thanks for the plug, Debbie. Given that it takes 100,000ML/day to break the banks at Wagga and with an assumed equal amount in the Murray, it is more likely that the volume going over the Barrages will be in the order of 250,000ML/day by the time it gets there. That will be $75 million worth of water each day to do the same job of keeping the mouth open that a single dredge has done for the past three years at an annual cost of $2.3 million.

    In contrast, one report (ABC) indicated that 1 million ML is bowling through Rockhampton every day, and will continue to do so for at least another two weeks, assuming we don’t get any more rain. That is $300 million worth of wasted water, and $1 billion worth of lost production at farm gate, every day.

    Double that for the Condamine/Ballone and Border Rivers. But no news on the Burdekin. We do know that the cancelled stage two of the Burdekin Falls Dam will increase storage capacity by 8 million megalitres.

    Jennifer, if you have a problem with the maths in my posts then do us all the courtesy of explaining where I am in error. Or are you now also stooping to an appeal to authority?

  33. kuhnkat January 5, 2011 at 4:12 am #


    “Pikey,all the stream gauging within the boundary of the Snowy Scheme is ‘commercially sensitive’ information. Same goes for Vic Hydro and Tasmania.”

    Were these dams built and maintained purely through private funds or were Public or Government funds included??

    Do these operators, if solely private, have contracts with the Public or Government?

    How could releasing this data be shown to damage their income outside of showing negligence or criminal activity? (I am not claiming either, just trying to press a point as to whether the data should be made public)

  34. Robert January 5, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    Living in the scrub, I can’t afford to waste a bathtub of used water.
    Who on this continent of Australia is allowed to knowingly waste 6000, 3000 or 1000 megalitres? And into someone’s flood?
    I totally don’t get it.

  35. Polyaulax January 5, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    kk,yes,all these schemes are veteran government projects with infrastructure courtesy of the state and commonwealth taxpayer,now corporatised with privatisation ahead. They are now in the electricity market,and,given its spot-market/ hedging contracts nature, expect commercial confidence over the detailed state of their resources. There are six listed hydro producers who,under the Water Act 2007 and amendments,can delay relese of information from sites scheduled as ‘commercially sensitive’.

    Yes ,a spin off of this is an ordinary Joe/Jen cannot gain real-time information about water volumes entering Snowy Hydro infrastructure,beyond the coarse detail of the ‘lake levels calculator’ that provides the most basic weekly information about volumes in only three of the system’s many dams.

    Thinking about Ian’s comments on the sheer volume of water in the Fitzroy,there is now so much water on the loose across eastern Australia that,if a large part was storable and shiftable between basins,the water market wouldn’t pay much!

    The new record heights on the Balonne at Surat translate to about 250 or 260GL/day today. About 1100GL/day will pass Rocky today,with the river steady at 9.2m at 6am

  36. debbie January 5, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    The plug was genuine Ian,
    I thought your submission was excellent.
    I hope people who contribute to this site have all taken the time to read it. I highly recommend it.
    I would also of course highly recommend Jennifer’s submission.
    They both highlight the absurdity of the basic assumptions of the MDBA. They also offer practical and sensible solutions backed by excellent research and excellent references.

    It is staggering how much wastage is going on at the moment. 250,000 ML per day in SA (!!) and 1Mill ML at Rockhampton and of course at the moment there are other places that are spewing water out to sea.
    I would imagine that the costs are way higher than your estimates and of course we need to add the cost of the damage that was caused by the floods and also the damage caused by the narrow mindset of our politicians who did nothing during the drought to help offset what is happening now.
    Here is an excerpt of a letter I sent to Senator Joyce recently….
    I believe it is definitely the mindset that our politicians are operating under that is causing most of our problems here:
    I began by congratulating him on some of the things he has been saying but felt I needed to take issue with one comment and give him the reasons why:
    I apologise that this now becomes a very long post but I hope that my basic point gets accross.

    One of the most disappointing things I heard you say was: “I think we all agree that we need to give water back to the environment”.

    The origins of this statement and the assumptions behind it are at the very core of the battle that is brewing over water and water management.

    It is particularly ironic that you made this statement standing beside a water diversion weir that could not work because it was completely flooded by the Murrumbidgee River. At the moment of course, it is not possible to give any water back to the MDB environment. Giving water at the moment is completely counter-productive.

    The core problem is that this whole plan began with the assumption that:

    a) The rivers are dying ;and
    b) The MDB is in serious trouble and it is because too much water is being extracted by irrigation.
    The MDBA was given the task to find out how much water the ‘environment’ needed and then that amount was going to be taken from irrigation.

    Rather than going into all the technical and scientific reasons why this assumption is flawed, let me pose some simple questions instead.

    If the MDBA had started with the assumption that:
    a) Australia has been in the grip of a crippling drought and we will need find ways to protect ourselves from more droughts in the future; and
    b) Since the 1960’s there have been significant increases in population and production demands on the MDB and yet very little done to upgrade water infrastructure; and
    c) The MDBA needs to be tasked with investigating ways to secure more water to meet the needs of all stakeholders (including the environment), modernise our delivery systems to reduce water loss and enhance our wetlands.

    Do you think the MDBA would now have a significantly different answer?

    When was it ever a good idea anywhere in the world to start with the negative assumption that we need to remove a valuable resource from productive enterprises? Shouldn’t we be starting with a progressive and positive mind set?

    If we look at the ‘prescriptions’ of the Water Act 2007 and the basic task assigned to the MDBA, how was it possible for them to come up with any other answer than the one they have come up with?

    Shouldn’t we be using words like “sourcing more water for the environment and more water for food and fibre production” rather than using your words “giving water back to the environment”?

    Why was the word ‘drought’ rarely used in the climate and watering models in the MDBP when it was clearly the drought that had caused most of the problems?

    When did our politicians and scientists and public servants forget that Australia is a land “of drought and flooding rains”?

    Most people who are associated with water and water management in our part of the system agree that some changes need to be made. There have been some mistakes and we need to fix them.

    It is very distressing for ‘irrigators’, in particular ‘broad acre irrigators’ and if we would like to be specific, ‘rice and cotton producers’, to find themselves in the position of ‘political footballs’ and labelled as evil environmental rapists and water wasters. This is unfair and untrue.

    It is very distressing to see this debate being framed as a battle between ‘urban environmentalists’ and ‘irrigation farmers’. Neither of these groups have control over water allocation. Why is the debate being framed around them? This is clearly a battle of political control over water and the casualties are mounting in an alarming manner.

    Even ‘the environment’ is a casualty.

    It is very distressing to be in the position of knowing that changes need to be made and mistakes need to be fixed but being treated with contempt by people who do not understand our system and who are not prepared to listen to practical and sensible solutions.

    Nearly every group in this debate needs to take some of your ‘common sense pills’, not just the ALP! Common sense seems to be the major casualty.

    Your media release ‘Make dams when the sun shines so you can store water when the rain falls’ makes far more sense than most of what we have been given.

    The recent fiasco surrounding the Required Annual Release (RAR) from Snowy Hydro perfectly illustrates the total lack of common sense that is operating at the moment. The mindset that we can somehow legislate to control and assist ‘Mother Nature’ has broken the fundamental rule about water management in our country. That rule is very simply: We must store water and conserve water in times of excess so that we can manage this valuable resource in the inevitable times of shortage.

    What has recently happened between July and December 2010 with the blessing of the MDBA?

    We have wasted water by emptying it on to a minor flood and then emptying it onto a major flood into dams that cannot store it, into rivers that don’t need it, through environmental assets which are already completely flooded and out to sea over barrages that are already spewing tens of thousands of mega litres to the sea every day. This is a profligate waste of a precious resource.

    The most important question I would like to ask all of you who are involved in water policy is:


    The most important thing I would like to suggest to all of you involved in water policy is:


    In addition to that I would also suggest:


    We do not need to give back anything.

    What we need to do is use our nation’s brightest minds to come up with ways to make our already regulated system even better.

    We also need a Water Act that will allow us to do that.

    (end of attachment)

    Can I respectfully suggest that we all start writing many letters to many politicians as well as contributing to sites like this one?
    Even though we come from different perspectives and different interest groups we are all definitely on the same page as far as this issue goes.

    While the amount that SHL contributed to the flood may have been “diddly squat” I still believe that what has happened in this instance demonstrates the faulty assumptions behind current water policy.

    The MDBA’s main theory is to put stored water on to the back of floods to flush out the rivers and the mouths of rivers.
    How well did that work in this instance?
    How well could it ever work?

  37. Jennifer January 5, 2011 at 9:37 am #


    An alternative opinion is that looking at electricity market prices and demand there does not appear to be any reason for Snowy to generate as both prices and demand are relatively low.

  38. Ian Mott January 5, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for the numbers, Poly. Anything on the Border Rivers, Warrego etc?

    I think it is incumbent on Jennifer, given the first para of her post above, to tell us what additional flood height she regards as a significant contribution to the devastation. She said,

    “THE managing director of Snowy Hydro, Terry Charlton, denies that Snowy Hydro contributed to the devastating flooding along the Murrumbidgee in early December in which homes were destroyed and wheat fields drown.”

    And I note that no attempt has been made to quantify the contribution, other than by reference to the volume of releases.

    On the Jo Nova thread, our mate “Tel” took 9 days of discharge at 3,450ML/day into each river to get a total of 31GL and then plucked a nominal 31km2 of flood area to get a claimed 1 metre rise in flood height. He said,

    “Going with your half-strength flow, we end up with the need to store 31 GL (i.e. 31 million cubic meters) which could cover 31 square kilometers of land to a depth of 1m (let’s suppose 1m of floodwater is enough to force someone to leave their home). Maybe at an average of 10 houses per square kilometer [this guy really believes there is one farmhouse to every 10ha, IM] that’s 300 families (and making a worst-case presumption about the half/half split makes it twice as big). Naturally, the real inconvenience depends on exactly where those houses are in comparison to exactly where the overflow spills into.

    If you can find a news report to say how large the actual area of flooded land was in this particular case, then divide that 31 million cubic meters by the actual flooded area to get the height difference if you like. Don’t give me this silly 2 millimeters business, the entire local government area of Wagga is only 5000 square kilometers which would be 6 millimeters deep if the extra water covered it all evenly, but we all know perfectly well that it was not evenly spread at all.”

    My response was,

    “No, Tel, you are talking through your backside again. You plucked 9 days release but then made no attempt to reconcile it with any form of flow or any width of flow, or any speed of flow, and then had the gall to suggest that I was lacking understanding of the importance of time. You then plucked a convenient area out of your bum (31 km2) of flood area that gave you a neat 1 metre of flood height. And throughout this whole sorry show you have not lifted a finger to google up a single jot of hard data.

    For the f#$%& record, you boorish pillock, go to google earth, type in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia. The river you see there is the Murrumbidgee. Place your cursor over the river and observe the river height in feet as shown at the bottom of the image. Click on the ruler symbol in the top menu and you can then move your cursor up or down until you find the same height reading. Click at that point and then move the cursor back over the river to the next point where it shows the same height and click again. This will show you the distance between the two points which will also be the width of the flood water when the banks have overflowed.

    The rest of the readers can note that for nine such transects, done over 30km of river, (15km above and below Wagga Wagga) revealed an average width of 4.4km with a range from 1.8km to 8.5km. This 30km length of river would account for 8 hours of SH discharge if the mean rate of flow was 1 metre/second (ie 3.6km/hour or walking speed).

    The 40m/sec split discharge rate provided by Polyaulax, and not contested by Jen Marohasy, when spread over the 4400 metre mean flood width, would account for only 9mm of additional flood height at Wagga Wagga.

    For Tel to fit his stupid nine days of SH discharge into 31km2 of flood area to produce his even stupider 1 metre of flood height, it would fit into just 7.05km of river length. And that means the water would need 9 days to flow 7km, or 777 metres/day, 32m/hour, 54cm/minute, or 9mm/second. That is, it would be barely moving at all and it would take about 7 years to get to Lake Alexandrina, for fox ache.

    At a flow rate of 1 metre/second, or 82km/day, it will take flood waters 24 days to travel 2000km. So tell us all, Tel, which of us is working in the realm of reality and which of us is totally off the planet?

    For the record, transects taken further down river revealed a likely flood width at overbank of 17.8km at 10km East of Narrandera, 16.6km at 8km West of Narrandera, 22km at Leeton and 45km at Griffith. So the SH discharge is likely to have added 1.8mm to the flood height at Leeton and 0.88 of 1mm at Griffith.”

    So lets spell this out for Jennifer. The only analysis we have seen that claims a significant role for SH water in lifting the flood height by 1 metre is based on the absurd asumption that the entire nine days flood volume, in which the 9 days SH water was inseperable, only occupied 31km2 over 7km of river length at Wagga Wagga and that volume only flowed at a rate of 32 metres per hour.

    Double the hypothetical area and the height gain is reduced to only 50cm but that would still assume that the flood flowed at only 64 metres/hour. Double the hypothetical area again, to 124km2, and the height gain is reduced to 25cm but that would still assume that the flood flow was only 128 metres/hour, taking nine days to travel 28km. Double the hypothetical area once again and the height gain is reduced to 12.5cm but that would still assume that the flood flow was only 256 metres/hour. Under this scenario the water from day one (assuming it miraculously arrived 15km upstream from Wagga the moment it was released) would only be 41km below Wagga by day nine (half way to Narrandera) and it will still take 10.5 months to get to Lake Alexandrina.

    Double the flow speed to a still improbably slow 512 metres/hour (0.142m/sec) and the area is more than double because the flood width will have also more than doubled to 17km so the average height gain from SH water will be quartered to 3.1cm.

    So Jennifer is correct in saying that an accurate estimate of the contribution of SH water to the flood height is only possible with the release of detailed data and proper modelling. But we can conclude, with a very high degree of certainty, that the contribution of SH water was substantially less than 3cm and most probably less than 1.5cm. And in the context of a nine metre flood height, I believe the appropriate scientific terms for that contribution would be “diddly squat” or maybe “jack$hit”.

  39. Jennifer Marohasy January 5, 2011 at 10:09 am #


    Your increasingly personal and nasty comments are not warranted.

    My interest is in the truth and in particular knowing how much Snowy Hydro topped up the flooding in December in the Riverina.

    I am also interested in knowing how much water could have been saved, additional to the water that was released from Eucumbene Dam.

    Like Robert I consider it extraordinary that Snowy Hydro could be wasting 6,000 megalitres, though the figure for that day, based on the operational plan is more like 7,000. And over the preceeding months it was more like 125,000 megalitres. And like KuhnKat I don’t believe gauge height data should be commercial-in-confidence. And I don’t buy Ron Pike’s argument that without the releases there would have been brownouts in Sydney and Melbourne – unless perhaps Snowy Hydro is critical to growing the wind industry.

    I am hopeful, subsequent to my post yesterday, that two national news organisations may be going to follow up.

    Someone within Snowy Hydro is providing us with critical information – at considerable personal risk. There is no corporation that treats its whistle blowers kindly.

    And as regards your specific questions: I wouldn’t pretend to be able to even attempt to calculate the Snowy Hydro contribution until all the data was on the table. Your mention of 9 metres relates to one flood event.

    While you, and Polyaulax, have particular opinions and have done various calculations, given the limited information you are working from, and given your lack of detailed understanding of how the system works, and given neither you nor Polyaulax have even asked me for the Operational Plan of December 8, and that this contains critical information, I can only conclude that you are both full of much bluster… some of which is no doubt very misleading for many readers of this thread.

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