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Snowy Scheme

Legislative context

Information about the legislative context and governance arrangements relating to the Snowy scheme.

Mount Kosciuszko summit walk river flowing over stones - Image credit: Georgia McKeon DPE

Snowy water management reforms

The Snowy scheme diverts water from the rivers and waterways of the Snowy Mountains to the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. These diversions have significantly impacted the natural flow regime of the Snowy, Upper Murrumbidgee and smaller montane rivers.

The Snowy scheme’s current regulatory framework is the product of major energy market and water reforms implemented by the NSW, Victorian and Commonwealth governments in the 1990s. These reforms resulted in the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and an inquiry into the environmental impacts of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Driving these reforms was the desire to secure the commercial viability of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, while delivering environmental benefits to the Snowy River, Snowy montane rivers and River Murray.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997

Three complementary Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Acts made by each of the NSW, Victorian and Commonwealth Governments in 1997 provide the legal foundation for the Snowy water management reforms. NSW’s Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997:

  • provided for an inquiry examining the environmental impacts of the Snowy Mountains Scheme
  • established Snowy Hydro Limited as a corporatised entity to operate and maintain the Snowy Mountains Scheme through a water licence
  • established a scientific committee to advise on the pattern of environmental releases.

The Snowy Water Inquiry

The Snowy Water Inquiry was commissioned in 1998 to investigate the "environmental issues arising from the pattern of water flows in rivers and streams caused by the operation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme and report on options for dealing with the issues and the environmental, economic, agricultural and other impacts of those options".

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.

The Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed (SWIOID)

In 2000, the NSW, Victorian and Commonwealth governments agreed to implement the outcomes of the Snowy Water Inquiry in the Heads of Agreement on the Outcomes of the Snowy Water Inquiry. This included the objectives and volumes of environmental water releases; water accounting arrangements; and responsibilities of Snowy Hydro.

The heads of agreement was subsequently given effect through the Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed (SWIOID) PDF, 283.16 KB entered into by the NSW, Victorian and Commonwealth governments in 2002. It is a legally binding agreement between the parties on the outcomes of the Snowy Water Inquiry.

Snowy Water Licence

Through corporatisation, the Snowy scheme’s water operations were brought under NSW’s regulatory regime and the Snowy Water Licence (the licence) became the principle instrument through which Snowy Hydro’s water operations are governed. The licence was issued on 30 May 2002 under Part 5 of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997 (NSW) to give effect to the provisions of the SWIOID.

The licence defines Snowy Hydro’s rights and obligations in collecting, diverting, storing, using and releasing water.

The licence also defines the obligations of the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation (WAMC) to facilitate and regulate Snowy Hydro’s operations. WAMC’s obligations are delegated to the department.

Ownership and operation

The scheme is operated and maintained by Snowy Hydro, a company wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government, following the sale of all NSW and Victorian shares to the Commonwealth in 2018. It is governed by an independent Board of Directors and operates on a commercial basis.

Regulation of Snowy Hydro

The Water Administration Ministerial Corporation (WAMC) is statutory body established under the Water Management Act 2000 to carry out various water management functions.

WAMC issues and administers the Snowy Water Licence and regulates Snowy Hydro’s operations to ensure compliance. WAMC’s functions have been delegated to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment - Water.