The Snowy is one of the largest snowmelt rivers in Australia. It flows from the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales to the sea at Marlo in Victoria. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme diverts water for irrigation and electricity generation to the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers.

These diversions have disrupted the flow patterns of the Snowy. In the 1990s the NSW, Victorian and Australian Governments agreed to a major program of reform, giving rise to the making of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997 in New South Wales and concurrent legislation in Victoria and the Commonwealth.

Information on this page outlines the legal framework and governance arrangements in place to effectively manage the Snowy River.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act (NSW) provided for a corporatised entity to operate and maintain the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme through a water licence. The Act also provided for a public enquiry (the Snowy Water Inquiry) to examine the environmental impacts of the Scheme, and a scientific committee to advise on the pattern of environmental releases.

In its Final Report in 1998, the Snowy Water Inquiry identified a series of flow options to address its terms of reference. The Inquiry also recommended that increased flows should not adversely affect water supplies to irrigators.

Statutory instruments

Statutory instruments put into effect after the Inquiry included:

Heads of Agreement - the agreed outcome from the Snowy Water Inquiry

The Heads of Agreement released on 6 December 2000 outlines the arrangements to implement the outcome of the Snowy Water Inquiry, which was agreed between the New South Wales, Victorian and Australian Governments. This includes the environmental objectives, target levels of water flows to be achieved progressively over a ten year period, the financial commitments by governments, water accounting arrangements and responsibilities of Snowy Hydro Limited.

Members Agreement

The Members Agreement on 19 December 2003 established the Joint Government Enterprise (JGE) for the purposes of implementing the Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed (SWIOID), including expenditure of funds for water recovery projects and the purchase of water entitlement; and establishes the operating rules and requirements for the JGE. This now operates under the name Water for Rivers.

Snowy Water Licence

Issued on 30 May 2002 under Part 5 of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997 (NSW), the Snowy Water Licence confers rights to Snowy Hydro Limited and imposes obligations on the licensee, particularly with respect of the Snowy increased flows and water release requirements.

Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed

The SWIOID (PDF 276 KB) is a legal deed entered into by the NSW, Victorian and Australian Governments on 3 June 2002 to give effect to the Heads of Agreement. Under the SWIOID, reviews of the Snowy Water Licence are required on the fifth anniversary of the corporatisation date, and then every ten years thereafter.

Managing environmental flows

The NSW Office of Water manages a flow response monitoring and modelling program to assess the benefits of environmental flow releases, with support from the Victorian Government.

The NSW Office of Water is also responsible for the regulation of all water release arrangements from the Snowy Scheme, including for the Snowy River. An overview report, Returning environmental flows to the Snowy River (PDF 1.9 MB), provides information on water recovery, management and delivery of the increased flows.

Snowy Water Advisory Government Officials Committee

This high level committee has representation from the NSW, Victorian and Australian Governments. The committee discusses water policy and water management of strategic importance to the three shareholder governments and to Snowy Hydro Limited.

Snowy Water Technical Advisory Group

This group has representation from the NSW, Victorian, and Australian Governments, and Snowy Hydro Limited. The primary role of this group is to (i) improve communication between relevant water organisations and (ii) coordinate technical activities between the specialists in aquatic sciences and water management in the Snowy Mountains.

Snowy Scientific Committee

The Snowy Scientific Committee was established in 2008 by the NSW and Victorian Governments under the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997. The role of the committee was to advise the NSW Government on the release regime of environmental water from the Snowy Hydro Scheme.

The independent, six-member committee provided advice on the annual release strategy to the Snowy River, and to various montane rivers that are described in the Snowy Water Licence.

Proposed reform

The NSW Government has been reviewing the structure and function of the Snowy Scientific Committee. A discussion paper on this proposal Establishment of a Snowy Advisory Committee (PDF 144 KB) was made available for public consultation from 26 February to 1 April 2013.

The submissions will be considered in the deliberations on the appropriate role and functions of the future committee.

Snowy River releases

In October 2008 the Snowy Scientific Committee completed a report into the adequacy of environmental releases to the Snowy River downstream of Jindabyne Dam from 2002 to 2008.

The NSW Office of Water has prepared a response to the Snowy Scientific Committee's report:

Response to the Snowy Scientific Committee report on 'Adequacy of environmental releases to the Snowy River' (PDF 172 KB).

Upper Murrumbidgee River releases

In late December 2010 the Snowy Scientific Committee released a report entitled The Adequacy of Environmental Releases to the Upper Murrumbidgee River.

The NSW Office of Water has undertaken a comprehensive review of this report and produced a Response to the Snowy Scientific Committee report on 'The adequacy of environmental releases to the upper Murrumbidgee River' (PDF 736 KB).