Water Conservation Plans: More Trouble over Snowy

By Gordon Williams

14 February 1949 The Argus (Melbourne)

A new and bitter manifestation of State rights and rivalries now threatens to complicate the nationally vital work of completely diverting the Snowy River inland - and this at a time when it seemed certain that the end of a destructive controversy was at hand.

Recently a committee of Commonwealth and State experts recommended that a volume of water equal to two-thirds of the Snowy's divertible flow should be turned into the Murrumbidgee.

The fate of the final third was not decided, the committee asking for further time to consider it.  

Today, at Canberra, Federal, Victorian, and New South Wales Ministers will confer on this plan.

The New South Wales Government is reported to have advised the Federal Works Department that it is ready to go ahead with the experts' proposal, which is rather more than a compromise on the original alternatives for diversion - from Snowy to Murrumbidgee, and from Snowy to Murray.

This proposal, while not altogether pleasing to those whose interests centre in the Murray, was nevertheless accepted by the Murray Valley Development League, the "mouthpiece" of the Murray settlers, in the belief that it would serve a national purpose by turning the Snowy to some account, instead of allowing its waters to run wastefully away to the sea.

The League, however, hoped and hopes - that the Murray will receive the "final third," contending that on the evidence such a disposition is entirely justifiable.

The Murrumbidgee Water Users' Association, acting - it is assumed by authorities on this side of the river - with the approval of the NSW Government, now demands that all the divertible flow of the Snowy should be given to the Murrumbidgee, denying the Murray any access of new water.

It is interesting to compare the attitudes of League and Association.

The League reviews every aspect of the experts' plan optimistically, and notes that the Murrumbidgee will receive two thirds of the Snowy diversion only "after the fullest use has been made of the various heads of water for power development purposes - the amount of electricity which can thus be generated is more than double that assessed in the original Snowy Murray proposal."

It adds: The MVDL has been among the bodies most active in demanding full investigation of the Snowy potential, and that resultant decisions must conform to-national, and not sectional interests.

Therefore as the report [of the expert committee] has the full endorsement of the water and electricity representatives of the three Governments, we can only rejoice that they have so agreed, and will help to get prompt implementation of the scheme.

Tile League then submits its claim to the final third on what appear to be the demonstrable bases that its diversion to the Murray would cost about 24million less than would its diversion to the Murrumbidgee, and would, make possible the generation of 165,000kw more of electrical energy.

It declares that with two- thirds of the divertable flow of the Snowy, and with the really adequate regulation of the Upper Murrumbidgee and the Tumut rivers provided by the experts' plan, the Murrumbidgee "already stands to gain much more from tile current proposal than from the earlier Snowy-to-Murrumbidgee plan"; then adds, with a little sadness but much truth, that "the need of the Murray Valley for more assured supplies of water is very great."

The Murrumbidgee Water Users' Association (and some NSW Ministers) say flatly that they will be satisfied with nothing less than the entire divertible flow of the Snowy, and admit that this may cause them to appear "greedy or intransigent."

The Association contends that development of the Murray can best be promoted by construction of new storages on the river. It says, too, that the plan it supports would make all the water available for application to the land in eight years, whereas under the proposal to divert the final third to the Murray, the same application would take 20 years.

These, necessarily in brief, are the major grounds of dispute.

The MVDL sought to meet the MVWUA in conference to iron out the differences of opinion, and so hasten the plan of completely exploiting the Snowy, put according to statements made at the Tumbarumba meeting of the MVDL's executive council, the overtures met "a cool reception."

It is regrettable that such a conference could not have been held before the Ministers' meeting. It could have done much to clear the air, and perhaps stabilise discussion, at the Canberra talks.

The case could be argued back and forth endlessly, but the weight of evidence - and the weight of the experts' opinion - is that the Murray has established its claim to the un-allotted fraction of the Snowy water.  

It becomes ever more apparent that the NSW attitude is not innocent of politics. The lack of development of the northern side of the Murray is evidence of a relative lack of State interest in the area.

The Murrumbidgee Valley is, quite plainly, politically far more important but here it should be mentioned that the membership of the Murray Valley Development League itself includes local government bodies within the boundaries of NSW who assert their right to consideration.

Australia has suffered for years through the pioneer error of declaring the Murray a State border. This, however, is not an irreparable error, nor an un-alterable fact.

But even if the error be allowed to continue, the application of a national mind to its effects would remove them quickly and finally.

"Border barbarism" is not dead - but it should be . . . In other words, what the Murray needs is a little broad, Australianism.

It doesn't seem much to ask, but so far it seems to have been too much to give.

The MDVL has always been sincere in its attitude that the Snowy must be diverted where and how it will do the greatest good for the nation, and now that a fully qualified committee has awarded the greater part of the flow to the Murrumbidgee we do not change our attitude.

Let us get agreement on the final third, and then co-operate with the Snowy and the Murrumbidgee Leagues in speeding the work . . . . That expression by the MVDL seems reasonable enough. So did the MVDL's request for a conference.

But the controversy goes on.

Probably the experts will be given their further six months to determine the fate of the Snowy's final third; even so, their deliberations will probably be complicated by the interstate bickering.

Meanwhile, the Snowy, with 1ts wealth of water in a water-poor land, runs steadily, prodigally, away to sea.