The mouth of the Snowy River where it meets the sea in Orbost. Photo: Jason South
The future of environmental flows into the 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.
It's really important that the government gets impartial scientific advice.
Critics say the plan meant river flows would be regulated purely for profit, not environmental health.
More flexible … Ms Hodgkinson.
The 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 the approval of the federal and Victorian governments.
The news was greeted with dismay by environmental groups. ''It's really important that the government gets impartial scientific advice,'' said Acacia Rose, a spokeswoman for the Snowy River Alliance. ''The committee was set up to fulfil that role and 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.''
A NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said the committee had been working well and ''was heading towards an appropriate compromise between Snowy Hydro's profits from selling electricity and the need to restore the ecology of the Snowy. The releases will not be timed to benefit the Snowy River but to maximise the profit-making activities of Snowy Hydro''.
The previous state Labor government attempted to sell its 58 per cent stake in Snowy Hydro to the private sector in 2005, but that proposal was scuppered when the federal government withdrew support for the sale after public protests.
Snowy Hydro generates renewable energy from a network of 16 dams and turbines, completed in 1974.
The NSW government's discussion paper will be on public exhibition until April 1.
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.