Snowy River Key to New Power

This vast project will mean a juggling of Alpine streams to make the Snowy River key to new power.

by J. Bennetts.

22 January 1949 The Advertiser (Adelaide)

River diversions recommended by a Commonwealth-Victorian-New South Wales committee in the latest composite plan for the Snowy River hydro-electric power project are: - 

One-third of the Snowy head-waters (about 300,000 acre ft. a year) to be diverted to the Tumut, tributary of the Murrumbidgee. 

The waters of the Tooma, tributary of the Murray, also to be diverted to the Tumut; this will rob the Murray of water, but to compensate. 

Another one-third of Snowy headwaters to be diverted, this time to the Upper Murray.  

Some water from the Upper Murrumbidgee to be diverted into the tributary Tumut. It will, of course, flow back to the Murrumbidgee again, but will produce more power in the fast flowing Tumut.   

So far, this accounts for two thirds of the Snowy head waters. The Upper Murray breaks even; the Murrumbidgee, through its tributary, the Tumut, gains about 600,000 acre feet a year. 

The point still not settled is what should be done with the remaining third of the Snowy headwaters.

The water could be diverted directly to the Upper Murray, producing cheap power and giving the Murray Valley increased irrigation; or it could be sent to the Murrumbidgee, producing less power at greater cost, but increasing Murrumbidgee Valley irrigation still more. 

The Joint committee is now awaiting the opinions of State authorities. It does not expect to make a final recommendation until April. 

Why all this juggling with alpine streams?

Why divert water to the Murray, only to rob the Murray of the same amount of water by diverting its tributary, the Tooma? 

The reason is that this high altitude juggling, combined with careful sighting of dams, will ensure that there is a constant, controlled flow of water through from 15 to 20 hydro-electric power stations which are to be built. 

All the year round, summer or winter, sunshine or snow, there will be water in the alpine dams to gush down the races, spin the turbines and generate electric power. 

This is the topographical background to the Snowy project: The Murray, its tributary the Tooma, the Murrumbidgee and its tributary the Tumut, and the Snowy itself all are fed by the melting snows on the Australian Alps.

The Murray, the Murrumbidgee and their tributaries flow generally westward, converging eventually in the Murray proper and running to the sea through the south-west corner of South Australia. 

The Snowy flows southward through eastern Victoria, emptying into the Tasman. 

The experts have always agreed that there is little to be lost and much to be gained from the inland diversion of the Snowy headwaters.

It would rob the lower reaches of the Snowy of only 46 p.c. of their total volume of water. 

The remaining 54 p.c, draining in from eastern Victorian catchments, is sufficient for most purposes.

The question was - how to divert the headwaters? 

New South Wales wanted diversion into the Murrumbidgee; Victoria diversion to the Murray.

With a dead- lock threatening, the Commonwealth-States Committee produced the composite plans now under consideration.   

In a recent broadcast to the nation, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said that, if adopted, the plan would result in the production of nearly 1,750,000 kilowatts of power, at half the cost of coal-generated power. 

This would be 600,000 kilowatts more than the present combined consumption of Victoria and New South Wales. 

The plan envisages construction of 15 to 20 power stations, seven major dams, 80 to 100 miles of tunnelling through the Alps, and 500 miles of water race lines.

The power stations, mostly underground, will be fairly well protected from bombing and will need only a small amount of labour to run them. 

Mr. Chifley said the project would cost between 166m and 185m and would not be completed for a generation. 

No-one yet has decided who will provide the money, but presumably the Commonwealth and the benefiting States will share in proportion to the power and irrigation they receive. 

Probably the work will be done by existing organisations - the Victorian State Electricity Commission and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission: the New South Wales Public Works Department and the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission; and the Commonwealth Department of Works and Housing. 

Victoria and New South Wales will benefit most, but South Australia could expect to benefit from the additional 900.000 acre-feet of water entering the Murrumbidgee-Murray system each year.

Not all of this water would be used be- fore it reached the South Australian border.

South Australia would benefit too from the better regulation of Murray water, which will result from the installation of new dams. 

Australia's industrial core, the eastern area between Melbourne in the south, and Brisbane in the north, supplied with cheap power from one near bombproof hydro-electric system - that is a plan which should materialise for the next generation of Australians, when the Snowy project is completed.