The Snowy Mountains scheme or Snowy Scheme is a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south-east Australia. The Scheme consists of sixteen major dams; seven power stations; a pumping station; and 225 kilometres (140 mi) of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts that were constructed between 1949 and 1974. The Scheme was completed under the supervision of Chief Engineer, Sir William Hudson and is the largest engineering project undertaken in Australia.
The Snowy Mountains Scheme was notable for its immigrant, mostly European, work force. The scheme's construction is seen by many "as a defining point in Australia's history, and an important symbol of Australia's identity as an independent, multicultural and resourceful country".
Since the European settlement of Australia, both the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers have been subject to development and control to meet water supply and irrigation needs. By contrast, the Snowy River, that rises in the Australian Alps and flows through mountainous and practically uninhabited country until debouching onto the river flats of East Gippsland, had never been controlled in any way, either for the production of power or for irrigation, and a great proportion of its waters flowed into the sea. The Snowy River has the highest source of any in Australia and draws away a large proportion of the waters from the south-eastern New South Wales snowfields, and was considered as a means of supplementing the flow of the great inland rivers, a source of water supply to the rapidly growing metropolitan area of Sydney, a means for developing hydro-electric power and, again, as a source of increasing agricultural production in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys.
Following World War II, the Government of New South Wales proposed that the flow of the Snowy River be diverted into the Murrumbidgee River for irrigation and agricultural purposes; however there was little emphasis placed on the generation of power. A counter proposal by the Government of Victoria involved a greater generation of power, and involved diversion of the Snowy River to the Murray River. Additionally, the Government of South Australia was concerned that downstream flows on the Murray River would be severely jeopardised.
The Commonwealth Government, looking at the national implications of the two proposals, initiated a meeting to discuss the use of the waters of the Snowy River, and a Committee was set up in 1946 to examine the question on the broadest possible basis. This Committee, in a report submitted in November 1948, suggested consideration of a far greater scheme than any previously put forward. It involved not only the simple question of use of the waters of the Snowy River, but consideration of the possible diversion of a number of rivers in the area, tributaries, not only of the Snowy, but of the Murray and Murrumbidgee. The recommendations of the Committee were generally agreed to by a conference of Ministers representing the Commonwealth, New South Wales, and Victoria, and it was also agreed that the Committee should continue its investigations.
The legislation created the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority that was given responsibility for the final evaluation, design and construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The final agreed plan was to divert the waters of the Snowy Mountains region to provide increased electricity generating capacity and to provide irrigation water for the dry west. It was "greeted with enthusiasm by the people of Australia" and was seen to be "a milestone towards full national development".
The chief engineer, New Zealand-born William Hudson (knighted 1955), was chosen to head the scheme as Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, and was instructed to seek workers from overseas. Hudson's employment of workers from 32 (mostly European) countries, many of whom had been at war with each other only a few years earlier, had a significant effect on the cultural mix of Australia.
Construction of the Snowy Scheme was managed by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, it officially began on 17 October 1949 and took 25 years, officially completed on 21 October 1972.
Tunneling records were set in the construction of the Scheme and it was completed on time and on budget in 1974, at a cost of A$820 million; a dollar value equivalent in 1999 and 2004 to A$6 billion. Around two thirds of the workforce employed in the construction of the scheme were immigrant workers, originating from over thirty countries. The official death toll of workers on the Scheme stands at 121 people. Some 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) of roads and tracks were constructed, seven townships and over 100 camps were built to enable construction of the 16 major dams, seven hydroelectric power stations, a pumping station, 145 kilometres (90 mi) of tunnel and 80 kilometres (50 mi) of pipelines and aqueducts. Just 2% of the construction work is visible from above ground.
The Scheme is in an area of 5,124 square kilometres (1,978 sq mi), almost entirely within the Kosciuszko National Park. The design of the scheme was modelled on the Tennessee Valley Authority. Over 100,000 people from over 30 countries were employed during its construction, providing employment for many recently arrived immigrants, and was important in Australia's post-war economic and social development. Seventy percent of all the workers were migrants. During construction of the tunnels, a number of railways were employed to convey spoil from worksites and to deliver personnel, concrete and equipment throughout.
The project used Australia's first transistorised computer; one of the first in the world. Called 'Snowcom', the computer was used from 1960 to 1967.
At the completion of the project, the Australian Government maintained much of the diverse workforce and established the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), which is now an international engineering consultancy company. The Scheme is the largest renewable energygenerator in mainland Australia and plays an important role in the operation of the National Electricity Market, generating approximately 67% of all renewable energy in the mainland National Electricity Market. The Snowy Scheme's primary function is as a water manager, however under the corporatised model must deliver dollar dividends to the three shareholder governments - the NSW, Commonwealth and Victorian Governments.
The Scheme also has a significant role in providing security of water flows to the Murray-Darling Basin. The Scheme provides approximately 2,100 gigalitres (7.4×1010 cu ft) of water a year to the Basin, providing additional water for an irrigated agriculture industry worth about A$3 bn per annum, representing more than 40% of the gross value of the nation's agricultural production.
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, is one of the most complex integrated water and hydro-electric power schemes in the world and is listed as a "world-class civil engineering project" by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The scheme interlocks seven power stations and 16 major dams through 145 kilometres (90 mi) of trans-mountain tunnels and 80 kilometres (50 mi) of aqueducts. The history of the Snowy Scheme reveals its important role in building post World War II Australia.
Sir William Hudson was appointed the first commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, serving between 1949 and 1967. The Commissioner's role was the overall management of the Scheme. He represented the Scheme at the highest levels of government, welcomed international scientists and engineers, encouraged scientific and engineering research, as well as attending many social and civic activities. Sir William's management style 'stressed cooperation between management and labour and scientific knowledge (facts) over opinion'.
The original plan was for 99% of the water of the Snowy River's natural flow to be diverted by the Scheme below Lake Jindabyne. Releases from the Scheme were based on the needs of only riparian users and took no account of ecosystem needs; it soon became known that the lower reaches of the river were in environmental crisis. An extensive public campaign led to the Snowy Water Inquiry being established in January 1998. The Inquiry reported to the New South Wales and Victorian Governments in October of that year, recommending an increase to 15% of natural flows. The two Governments were equivocal about this target; aside from economic considerations there was a view that the health of the Murray is more important than that of the Snowy and any extra environmental flows are better used there instead.
In the 1999 Victorian state election, the seat of Gippsland East was won by Craig Ingram, an independent and member of the Snowy River Alliance, based in large part on his campaign to improve Snowy flows. In 2000, Victoria and NSW agreed to a long-term target of 28%, requiring A$375 million of investment to offset losses to inland irrigators. In August 2002 flows were increased to 6%, with a target of 21% within 10 years. However, by October 2008 it was evident that the return of environmental flows to the Snowy River in 2009 would be no more than 4% of natural flow with governments arguing the Snowy River needs to "pay back" the "Mowamba Borrowings". At the 2010 state election, Ingram lost the seat of Gippsland East to the Nationals.
Some concerned water managers, conservationists, politicians and farmers continue to advocate for the return of environmental flows to the Snowy River. The Dalgety District and Community Association commemorates Snowy River Day annually, towards the end of August, to mark the 2002 anniversary of when the governments of Victoria, NSW and the Commonwealth first released water into the Snowy River over the Mowamba Weir.
In accordance with the Snowy Water Licence, Snowy Hydro Limited has 're-commissioned' the Mowamba Aqueduct. Seasonal variable flows are essential to river ecology including flushing flows to support vital ecosystems for the Australian platypus and native Australian Bass, the species over which Ingram initially fought for flows into the Snowy River. A major spillway upgrade now facilitates these flows.
With a capacity of 4,798,400 megalitres (1,055.5×10^9 imp gal; 1,267.6×10^9 US gal), Lake Eucumbene is the largest reservoir in the Scheme. At the other end of the scale, Deep Creek Reservoir is the smallest reservoir with just 11 megalitres (2.4×10^6 imp gal; 2.9×10^6 US gal). Talbingo Dam has the highest wall at 162 metres (531 ft), while Khancoban Dam has the longest crest, at 1,067 metres (3,501 ft). A variety of dam and spillway types were used in the construction.
The Snowy Scheme is a major tourist destination. Sightseeing driving tours to the key locations of the Scheme are popular out of regional centres like Cooma, Adaminaby and Jindabyne along roads built for the Scheme like the Snowy Mountains Highway and Alpine Way and towards sights like Cabramurra, as Australia's highest town, spectacular dam walls, and scenic lakes. Trout fishing is popular in the lakes of the Scheme, notably Lake Jindabyne and Lake Eucumbene.
Though skiing in Australia began in the northern Snowy Mountains in the 1860s, it was the construction of the vast Snowy Scheme from 1949, with its improvements to infrastructure and influx of experienced European skiers among the workers on the Scheme, that really opened up the mountains for the large scale development of a ski industry, and led to the establishment of Thredbo and Perisher as leading Australian resorts. The construction of Guthega Dam brought skiers to the isolated Guthega district and a rope tow was installed there in 1957. Charles Anton, a snowy worker identified the potential of the Thredbo Valley.