Environment News: The Snowy River Lives

YEARS ago – and I do mean years – we ran a series of reports supporting the work of East Gippsland fishermen and environmentalists such as Craig Ingram and John Johnston who were working tirelessly to try and convince water management decision makers that the Snowy River would die if environmental flows were not restored from Lake Jindabyne.

Prior to the completion of the dam in 1967, trout anglers regularly caught Australian bass that made their way up to the high reaches of the river and its tributaries. By the time we became aware of the issue, the Snowy had silted up below the dam, and while some big bass were still caught in the bottom sections, the future was pretty bleak.

The folks around Orbost got politically organised, and Craig actually took the Victorian state seat of East Gippsland from the sitting National member and held it for a couple of terms. He and his supporters continued to push for proper environmental flows from Jindabyne, and we kept reporting on their efforts. Craig eventually lost the seat and the issue seemed to go a bit quiet.

Until October 2011, when 84 billion litres of water were released from Jindabyne over a three week period to scour the river of silt and choking weeds, and help re-establish the health of both it and its fish and other inhabitants. The Snowy Scientific Committee had finally concluded after considering a series of reports that a 1% of original flow was clearly deficient for riverine health and recommended the release. The Federal, NSW and Victorian governments finally concurred.

The release is basically snow melt water and mimics a natural flow. While it runs, it raises the river height by several metres. It’s hopefully not a one-off event and will be repeated regularly. Whatever the merits of the emotional arguments about job losses and water dependent primary industries currently raging in the Murray/Darling Basin, anglers know that rivers have to be healthy if natural fish populations are to be sustained, whether they be Murray cod in the Darling, Eastern cod in the Clarence or bass in the Snowy. That means a quantum of guaranteed environmental flow for each and every one of these systems. It’s not just fish… out in the NSW Macquarie Marshes the locals say “fat ducks mean fat cattle”… no environmental flows mean no water birds and poor pasture.

Political choices between regional prosperity and environmental health can be extremely difficult. Sure, towns have to survive, people have to make a living, but fish have also got to swim. For now, though, congratulations to you East Gippsland activists for your years of hard work in achieving an outcome which is good for all genuine environmentalists, angling and non-angling. Hope those big bass come back better than ever, Craig and John.

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