The Snowy River starts in New South Wales on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain, in New South Wales. It flows into Bass Strait at Marlo in Victoria.
The Snowy River catchment covers an area of 15,869 km2 of which 6,500 km2 are situated within Victoria.
In the alpine region, water from the Snowy River and its tributaries is captured and regulated in a complex system of dams, tunnels, pumping stations and aqueducts as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
Below the Jindabyne Dam, the river descends through the Beloka Gorge and the Monaro Tableland before entering a mountainous region that includes the Snowy River Gorge and extends for over 200 kilometres. The river emerges on to the floodplain at Jarrahmond north of Orbost, before flowing into Bass Strait at Marlo.
Important wetlands on the lower Snowy River include the estuary of the Snowy River and the Lower Snowy River Wetlands, which include Lake Corringle, Lake Wat Wat, Lake Curlip, and Cabbage Tree Lagoon. There are also numerous other small wetlands on the floodplains of the Snowy River and Brodribb River (which enters the estuary at Marlo). These high-value wetlands are recognised in the Directory of Important Wetlands.
The Snowy River estuary at Marlo is subject to periodic closure resulting from variations in river flows and climatic patterns.
The Snowy floodplain is an important economic asset, with land used for irrigated horticulture, dairy, fodder production, beef cattle fattening, crop and seed production and aquaculture. The river downstream from Orbost and the estuary at Marlo are also significant recreational assets for boating, fishing and camping.
A large part of the Snowy River catchment in New South Wales falls within the Kosciuszko National Park (proclaimed in 1967). Controls on alpine developments such as ski resorts and roads, and the withdrawal of grazing rights in the late 1950s, have helped to maintain this part of the catchment in good condition.
Below the Jindabyne Dam, the river descends through the Beloka Gorge and the Monaro Tableland. This area, first settled in the 1830s is mainly used for sheep and cattle grazing.
Some areas of the catchment here have been impacted heavily since settlement. The region was declared an area of erosion hazard in 1938, because of highly erodible soil types, inappropriate land clearing, damage by rabbits and poor land management practices such as over-grazing of stock. Extensive efforts have been made over many years to control erosion in the region.
From the junction with the Quidong River, the Snowy enters a mountainous region that includes the Snowy River Gorge and extends for over 200 kilometres. Much of this area falls within the Alpine National Park (that joins with the Kosciuszko National Park) and further south, the Snowy River National Park.
The river emerges on to the floodplain at Jarrahmond north of Orbost. Between Jarrahmond and the estuary at Marlo (32 km) the river passes through rich floodplain land used mainly for cattle grazing, dairying and vegetable growing. Extensive works are continuing to rehabilitate this section of the river.
The Snowy River floodplain was first settled in 1842 when Dr Peter Imlay took up the Orbost Run. In the years that followed, native vegetation – described by early settlers as a mosaic of swamp and rainforest and, in places, as a ‘jungle’ – was cleared on the floodplain and along the river banks for cattle grazing and other farming production.
The Snowy River was used for commercial navigation after 1880 and extensive de-snagging – the removal of large trees and branches that had fallen into the river – was carried out to make the river upstream of Marlo easier to navigate.
The effects of land clearing and de-snagging first became evident during major flood events. On the Snowy River these occurred in June 1890 and December 1893 (and possibly earlier, in an extreme flood event in May 1870). Evidence indicates that the river doubled in width between 1870 and 1920 at many places on the floodplain.
Low flows in the river following the completion of the Snowy Mountains Scheme (SMS) also contributed to the degradation of the river.
In 2000, the Victorian, New South Wales and Commonwealth Governments agreed to increase the flow to 21% of the average flows originally passing the Jindabyne wall within 10 years of corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Authority (SMA), with an interim target of 15% of original flows within 7 years of corporatisation and a long term target of 28% by 2012.
On August 28, 2002 the first environmental flows were released to the Snowy from the Mowamba River below Jindabyne Dam. However, three years later (February 2006), these environmental flows were discontinued.
Works continued on recovery of water savings in the irrigation areas North of the Divide. These water savings through delivery improvement projects have been recovered back to the Snowy flows. Since 2010 these environmental flows have occurred annually.
For more information on these flows please refer to the NSW Department of Primary Industries-Water website. If you would like more information on other environmental flows in Victoria please refer to the Victorian Environment Water Holders (VEWH) website.