Bronwyn Herbert Investigates Snowy Hydro

Before the recent flooding, there was much lamenting about how there is never enough water in the Murray Darling Basin for both irrigated agriculture and also the environment.   Yet in all this discussion no consideration has been given to the more integrated management of Snowy Hydro waters with management of water allocations within the Basin proper.  

Over the recent drought years Snowy Hydro waters contributed to about 60 percent of inflows to the Murrumbidgee and 30 percent of inflows to the Murray River.   

Since its corporatisation, the priority for Snowy Hydro has been electricity generation and so now, while the catchments are flooding, water is being taken by Snowy Hydro from Eucumbene Dam and sent through turbines before being released into Blowering Dam which is spilling into the saturated Murrumbidgee catchment.  

An alternative management arrangement that gave precedence to water storage over electricity generation would undoubtedly see water being stored during this period of high flows in anticipation of the next drought. 

Given the high inflows over recent months it is indeed extraordinary that Lake Eucumbene, the central storage system for the Snowy Hydro scheme, remains at less than 30 percent capacity and that water is being drawn from this storage for electricity generation.

Bronwyn Herbert has been considering these and other issues and her investigation will feature tonight on the ABC Television 7.30 Report*. 


*The program can also be watched from your computer

For background on Snowy Hydro scroll here:

24 Responses to Bronwyn Herbert Investigates Snowy Hydro

  1. val majkus February 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    I am a bit surprised as to why Jen’s blog is not receiving more comments from people who are affected by the MDBA plan

    and my suspicion is that these people have been silenced; after all this is this Govt’s past record; people like the miners are silenced on the basis they hope they will get a better deal

    I hope this is not happening in this case and as I say it’s only my perception but I am surprised at the silence when Jen posts relevant posts

  2. jennifer February 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm #
    Same story covered on PM.

    What was missed was that water is still being released.

  3. spangled drongo February 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm #


    Saw some of the story on the 7.30 report tonight so maybe all your hard work has had some result.

    It seems Snowy Hydro and the NSW Govt have clammed up and it doesn’t look good for them.

    Hard to believe how low Eucumbene is.

  4. gavin February 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    It was an interesting show. Good on you auntie

  5. Ian Mott February 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    You know you are scraping the bottom of the journalistic barrel, Jen, when the ABC is the only outfit that will run your pathetic Snowy Hydro story. And true to form, the only time they got anywhere near a fact was their mention of the volume of water released as, wait for it, six million litres of water. They didn’t even get that right but accuracy and relevant information was never a crucial part of this beat up in the first place.

    And Val, spare us the drama, no-one has been silenced. They just know a pointless, irrelevant wonk when they see one. And they were over this silly story before Christmas.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Wivenhoe Dam went within 4 inches of catastrophic release and a massive 645,000 megalitres was unnecessarily added to the Brisbane flood. 20,000 needlessly flooded homes have had about 30% of their value stripped away before a single repair is completed. And at a median house price of $450,000 then each family has lost $135,000 each for a total capital loss of $2.7 billion.

  6. MikeO February 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    I am glad to see your blog going again. I have spent a lot of time on it in past and thought it had gone forever.

  7. val majkus February 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Ian I’m aware of the Wivenhoe problem; I live in Sth East Qld and if you’re interested Warwick Hughes has had a post on it
    and also one on the Toowoomba flash floods

  8. JohnM February 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    You can smell a big rat somewhere but the motive needs more work. Surely it’s not just about the money, after all the generation occured when the return yields were low.

    What I did find interesting is that lower Tumut generated power for 10 straight hours. To the layman in the street this is unusual since the system is designed for peak load power. This goes well beyond this.

    If I was a reporter then I would probably look at what was happening elsewhere in the grid at the same time. A good conspiracy theory would be that the state govt ordered the outflows and generation to hide instability elsewhere in the grid for political purpose.

    Keep digging….!

  9. JohnM February 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Of course it is only an amazing co-incidence that the water release was on 8th Dec. and the power sale on the 10th. No connection possible here !!!

  10. Polyaulax February 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    This is all very weird….and sad. And wrong. Do journalists check their stories anymore?

    We went over this last year and realised that Snowy Hydro’s contribution to the Murrumbidgee floods was absolutely miniscule,that their contribution to the last flood on the Tumut was minor…and also that Snowy Hydro and the NSW Office of Water COMPLETELY removed any scheme contribution to the two earlier,higher floods in the Tumut Valley,both of which would have done the most damage to the Tumut’s banks that so concerned farmer Peter Loder. Yes,those floods were the result of runoff from the catchment outside any dam’s ability to mitigate them. The data is unambiguous.

    I did the hard yards last year with the public streamflow data. Obviously,none of this was of any value:you never checked my work. The Murrumbidgee flood peak and the great bulk of the total flood came from the Murrumbidgee River catchment above the Tumut Junction. A considerable area of the Murrumbidgee catchment around Burrinjuck Dam and higher experienced their highest rainfall on record for the flood periodThe peak passed Gundagai days before the Tumut flooded,and that latter flood only served to extend the rear of the flood . It did not create a higher peak. The data is all still there,retrievable from the state-of-the-art NOW interface. Again,don’t journalists do any research? Isn’t this contentious issue serious enough for fact checking?

    The gentleman from Adaminaby who claimed that Eucumbene was “ten percent higher at the same time last year” is mistaken. And it’s sad that Ms Herbert did not see fit to check this claim.It would have taken her a few minutes. Eucumbene is now higher than this time last year,and has been so since the start of February…and at no time this year has it been any more than 5.4% less than the equivalent period last year. The man was exaggerating,perhaps unitentionally,but exaggerating all the same.

    You know what went down the Tumut system from the Eucumbene Tumut tunnel on the 8-9th,and you know what went past Blowering for the same period. It does not add up to this beat-up.

  11. David Boyd February 16, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    The big picture is that Eucumbene is the largest dam feeding the MDB. As I understand it, it has a dual purpose-electricity generation and water conservation. Are we truly satisfied that in respect to its water conservation purpose, the management of the dam is properly integrated with water planning and management for the MDB? At only 30% of capacity after this wet summer one would have to wonder. And why is information on Eucumbene so difficult to get hold of?

  12. Neville February 16, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Because this will have an effect on all of us in the future and cost us billions even though it could be based on biased doubtful data that compose our temp records I’m posting this here.

    All we should ask is why wasn’t this done long ago?

  13. MikeO February 16, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Polyaulax this is quite incisive

    “Reporter’s are faced with the daily choice of painstakingly researching stories or writing whatever people tell them. Both approaches pay the same” Scott Adams.

    Journalism quite often amounts to regurgitating articles fed to them by PR firms or government. 1200 journalists work in that area preparing press releases. I do not know the complete figures but 800 were working for the Victorian Labor government.

  14. Richo February 16, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    The 7.30 Report was an ill-researched beat-up, complete with sorrowful music worthy of the commercial channels, relying on two experts whose “evidence” was circumscribed, to say the least.

    Falling Lake Eucumbene levels do not mean that water is being simultaneously released into the Tumut River below Blowering – it’s caught up in Tumut Pond, Talbingo and Jounama Reservoirs and could even be getting recycled via Tumut 3 – or it’s going into the Murray River instead. And even if the transfer from Eucumbene was 6 gigalitres (rather than the 6 megalitres claimed by a reporter who has no sense of scale and is obviously an error because otherwise it’s just too trivial to mention) it’s still only about 70 cubic metre per second over a day. It’s nothing – a mere piddle in a stream. Wivenhoe was releasing over a hundred times that at the peak. Max could’ve told the ABC all of this, but either he didn’t or they ignored it.

    It’s completely wrong to believe that the primary purpose of the Hydro Scheme is for water regulation. It is also for electricity generation – that’s why the power stations are so large, and they operate so intermittently (low capacity factor), and why the pumped-storage at Tumut 3 exists. It was envisaged this way from the 1900s, four decades before construction began, and it was designed and constructed this way, by a generation far more pragmatic and realistic than this one. The water storage myth stems from a time before hydro-electric power was even thought of.

    But Jennifer swallows this line, lamenting that water is still being released. If the focus of the Hydro scheme was changed to water regulation, then most of the generating units could be decommissioned since they don’t need that many just to get the water through (much higher capacity factor, more like run-of-river). Say goodbye to several hundred jobs in the Snowy region, plus those indirect economic benefits – plus those nice dividends the NSW and Vic governments earn which go towards useful things like schools and hospitals.

    And lets not ignore the fact that the Snowy Scheme kept the lights on during the recent heatwave. And every megawatt it generates saves a tonne or more of CO2. Should all the generation stop (and be replaced by coal-fired generation and blackouts) for a year or five so that the lake fills up again?

    I wish journalists would at least try to get their facts straight, from a couple of different sources, before launching on a campaign.

    (Incidently, Eucumbene isn’t full because it’s a bloody enormous storage – four and a bit times larger than Burrinjuck. The one time it did fill was after a wet decade. And it’s coming out of the driest decade in terms of inflows on record. It takes more than a couple of wet months to make a difference.)

  15. jennifer February 16, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    It is the ultimate in hypocrisy for the Commonwealth government to be insisting farmers give back water under a new planning scheme to save the environment, while continuing to pocket millions from water wasted by Snowy Hydro for derivative trading on the electricity market.

  16. Johnahtan Wilkes February 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Jennifer, what have you done to upset Ian Mott so?

    Give us the inside goss.
    My word, the man is more than angry!


  17. jennifer February 17, 2011 at 1:19 am #


    I am wondering who you are to suggest that 6,000 megalitres is an insignificant amount of water. That’s enough water to keep Melbourne going for a week, Canberra for about 40 days, and if sold to an irrigator as allocation worth well over $1 million.

    The volumes of water that have fallen in Queensland this summer dwarf this.

    But it is the Murray Darling Basin that dictates water policy across Australia and for the basin its a signficant quantity to waste – and that was on just one day. The waste probably began around September and is continuing every day.


    I am a little surprised by not only Motty’s outburst, but also Richo and Poly.

    And very few comments on my most recent blog post which I think puts the continuing debacle in more context:

    Indeed I am fascinated that Snowy Hydro can, all up, flush about 500,000 megalitres of potential storage away in one summer without a murmur from the National Farmers Federation or New South Wales Irrigators Council or Murry Irrigation and the list goes on.

    When Prime Minister John Howard wanted to take the same amount from irrigators there was a huge outcry.

    What’s up?

  18. Richo February 17, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    My points about 6,000 ML were:

    (a) You have no idea where it went, you only infer that it was transferred out of Eucumbene because you see a change in lake level. It could have gone to several other destinations than the Tumut River below Blowering on any day. But that’s sufficient for you to imply that it exacerbated flood impacts.

    (b) 6,000 ML in a day is 70 cubic metres per second (m3/s), which is bugger all in a flood flow which could be several thousand m3/s. So even if it did instantaneously end up in the Tumut River, which it wouldn’t, it would be as a piddle in a stream during those floods. Again though you imply disastrous consequences.

    So drop the crap about exacerbating flood impacts for starters. That’s an unfair, untrue, deeply offensive sledge of an organisation that does many great things for its stakeholders.

    Your further line of argument is about “wasted” water – I interpret your line being that water should be being saved up in Eucumbene because it’s not really needed downstream at the moment.

    That’s a different point and goes to the fundamental objective of the Hydro Scheme. It depends on whether one sees the Scheme as a water “bank”, or as a guarantor of the reliability of the electricity network, or as a tool of a business which has many postive impacts in the local region and beyond.

    It’s all three of those things of course. Perfectly happy to see that debate occur (though I do think it was over in a legislative sense 8 years ago when Snowy Hydro was corporatised).

    But it’s poor journalistic form to invent an unjustified implication to start a debate about something.

  19. jennifer February 17, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    “a) You have no idea where it went, you only infer that it was transferred out of Eucumbene because you see a change in lake level. It could have gone to several other destinations than the Tumut River below Blowering on any day. But that’s sufficient for you to imply that it exacerbated flood impacts.”

    WRONG. I have the operational plan for that day. And more than this was released from Lake Eucumbene.

  20. jennifer February 17, 2011 at 9:09 am #


    The water managers set the trans-mountain tunnels so water was flowing away from Lake Eucumbene at over 80 cubic metres per second (6,912 megalitres for Wednesday).

  21. Richo February 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    So what? Where was it going to – Tumut Pondage, I assume (that being the other end of one of the trans-mountain tunnels)? Then it still hasn’t left the Scheme storage. Blowering Reservoir (which releases to the Tumut River) is still three more reservoirs further downstream: Tumut 2, Talbingo and Jounama lie in between. (To be really picky, you don’t even know that the flow wasn’t reversed some time later. Max Talbot said on the 7.30 report that the flow could go in the other direction.)

    But for the sake of the argument let’s assume that it was then sent onwards from Tumut Pondage through Tumut 1 and Tumut 2 power stations, where it would end up in Talbingo.

    Talbingo is still a very large reservoir (160,000 megalitres active capacity) and it could still be sitting there for all we know. And even if it was used at Tumut 3 power station (apparently Snowy Hydro was generating there on that day) and would have ended up it Jounama pondage, where it could be pumped back up into Talbingo again.

    You haven’t cited enough evidence to show that this water even ended up in Blowering Reservoir on the day in question, never mind the separate issue that (whether it was 70 or 80 m3/s) it’s still bugger all in a flood.

    So this is a really unfair basis to vilify a company on by claiming that they exacerbated flooding. It certainly ain’t “the whole truth”.

  22. Ian Mott February 17, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    No, folks, I am not angry and my post was not an “outburst”. Like Poly, I am simply perplexed as to why Jennifer would so conspicuously lose the plot. The shere number of articles on this topic, on this blog, and the continued repetition of claims that have been repeatedly refuted, gives this whole show the look and feel of some sort of remedial therapy in a half way house. At least basket weaving would produce something of merit by its end as well as deliver the comfort and distraction that is normally associated with the repetition. If therapy is needed this ain’t it.

  23. Perplexed? February 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    So Ian, are you taking up basket weaving then?

    Good, it will calm you down, I’m sure.

    Peace man!

  24. Debbie February 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I have been away for 2 weeks and missed all this.
    Val you are right to question why the MDBP affected people are not commenting on this. Rest assured we have not been silenced. A lot of us have been under pressure from the Federal Govt and the MDBA as they have been touring the area doing their socio-economic studies for various inquiries.
    We have also had new members added to the MDBA by its new chairman Craig Knowles in a rather underhand manner.
    As well as that we have had the Wentworth Group raise their heads again.
    We are fighting for our life on many fronts.
    Jennifer has done a great job of highlighting the absolute absurdity that is governing water policy in the lower section of the MDB.
    Personally I don’t care whether the releases exacerbated the floods or not. I’m not sure why Poly and Motty care so much about that either.
    I suspect you are both missing the point or maybe you have other issues?
    What I care deeply about is the profligate waste that has ocurred because our water authorities have blindly stuck to rules and regulations that were all about water shortages and drought. The lack of flexibility and common sense is mind boggling.
    Anyone who actually owns water entitlements or irrigation property below Eucumbene (and there are a lot of us) are absolutely flabbergasted that this was allowed to happen and is in fact still happening. The figure is at least 500,000ML but is more likely about 1,500,000ML all up.
    The fact that at least 4000ML to 5000ML has been releaed every single day into a flooded system since at least September defies common sense!
    There are ways for SHL to produce electricity without them having to release this much water. They released the water because the licence demanded they did so. It is ridiculous, but that is the main reason.
    NOW and SHL were repeatedly warned by various water rep bodies that there was a serious anomoly in this licence and even though they agreed that there was a potential problem, THEY CHOSE TO DO NOTHING ABOUT IT!!!!
    As Jennifer correctly points out, they are still doing it!
    They have agreed to stop on the Murrumbidgee/ Tumut side (note “agreed” doesn’t actually mean they have stopped) but they are still wasting water from the “Mother Lode” on the Murray side.
    It will not be possible in a few months time for these people to say: “Oh sorry! We shouldn’t have done that. Here, have the water back.”
    None of us needs a degree in hydrology to know that water runs downhill! That water is gone and it was spilled for no good reason.
    It is just plain ridiculous!
    For those of us who have been and will be affected, it is also infuriating. It was never farmers who were wasting water, it was always our governing authorities and it’s about time they admitted it!
    Also Poly and Motty, it isn’t a good idea to tip water on top of a flood if you don’t need to do it! Whether it made a difference or not is really not the point. It is just poor management and it is also extremely wasteful.

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