Legislation and governance

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.

Public enquiry

The Commonwealth, Victorian and NSW Governments have reached agreement for the states' holdings in Snowy Hydro to be sold to the Commonwealth Government. The NSW share will be sold for $4.1 billion, which will be used for vital infrastructure projects in NSW. The sale transaction is designed in a way that the water management arrangements remain unchanged.

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 established the operating rules and requirements for the JGE. This operated under the name Water for Rivers and completed the water recovery task outlined in the SWIOID in 2012.

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, 283.16 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 Government is 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, 2724.37 KB), provides information on water recovery, management and delivery of the increased flows.

Proposed reform

The NSW Government is transferring responsibility for Snowy environmental water management to the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). This will bring the environmental water management arrangements for the Snowy River into line with the rest of NSW’s environmental water holdings. Management responsibilities will be shared between Department of Industry – Water and OEH until the formal transfer occurs. Please visit the OEH website for more information on how the NSW Government manages water for the environment.

Snowy Advisory Committee

About the Snowy Advisory Committee

In 2014 legislation was passed to replace the former Snowy Scientific Committee with a Snowy Advisory Committee.  This reform was implemented following a review into the former Snowy Scientific Committee’s structure and functions that found expanding the committee to provide a greater range of local and Aboriginal community representation and water expertise would be more responsive to community and government needs. The role of the Snowy Advisory Committee is to provide vital community and expert input to the design on the timing and pattern of the release of environmental flows to the Snowy River and Snowy montane rivers, to ensure their ongoing health.

Reports by the former Snowy Scientific Committee

Snowy River

In October 2008 the former Snowy Scientific Committee completed a report into the adequacy of environmental releases to the Snowy River downstream of Jindabyne Dam from 2002 to 2008. Read the NSW Government's Response to the Snowy Scientific Committee report on 'Adequacy of environmental releases to the Snowy River'.

Upper Murrumbidgee River

In late December 2010 the former Snowy Scientific Committee released a report entitled The Adequacy of Environmental Releases to the Upper Murrumbidgee River. Read the NSW Government's Response to the Snowy Scientific Committee report on 'The adequacy of environmental releases to the upper Murrumbidgee River'.