Snowy River plan threatens health
Critics say the plan would mean river flows would no longer be regulated on the basis of environmental health. Photo: Andrew Sheargold.
THE future of environmental flows into the iconic Snowy River are in doubt after the NSW government released a plan to replace its independent scientific committee with an industry-funded advisory group.
It has called for the existing Snowy Scientific Committee to be abolished and replaced with a new advisory board paid for by Snowy Hydro Limited, the electricity generator that is owned by the NSW, Victorian and federal governments.
Critics say the plan would mean river flows would no longer be regulated on the basis of environmental health, but purely for profit.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said in a statement that the changes would be ''more flexible and adaptive to changing needs and be more responsive to the community and government''.
A discussion paper said the committee would be restructured, and would no longer receive funding from the state government. It would contain community as well as industry and government representatives, and report to the water minister. ''We have now had the opportunity to look back and see what has worked and what can be improved, and are seeking comment on the functions, committee membership, reporting arrangements and the role of the chair,'' Ms Hodgkinson said.
The changes are understood to require approval of the federal and Victorian governments.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said it supported in-principle the NSW government's decision to review the Snowy Scientific Committee's role and was pleased the paper retained the requirement for some members to be nominated by Victoria. ''Victoria will give the proposal further consideration in the coming week and will provide feedback to the NSW government where necessary,'' she said.
The news was greeted with horror by environmental groups that monitor the health of the river, some sections of which have been under extreme stress from low flow rates.
''It's really important that the government gets impartial scientific advice,'' said Acacia Rose, spokeswoman for conservation group the Snowy River Alliance. ''The committee was set up to … be independent, but this so-called advisory group won't be independent from the interests of industry or the government. We will lose impartiality, which is a backward step.''
With TOM ARUP