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Energy and environment
Snowy Mountains Scheme
hydro-electricity and irrigation development

The Great Dividing Range of mountains runs down most of eastern Australia, near the coast. Numerous rivers flow the short distance from the mountains to the sea, and since the 1880s European Australians have dreamed of turning these rivers west, to conquer inland drought.

In 1949 the government decided to dam the snow-fed headwaters of the east flowing Snowy River and divert them into the Murray River, which heads west through farmland along the NSW-Victoria border.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme was the largest construction project undertaken in Australia. Moving the river was a huge and expensive engineering feat of tunnel and dam design and construction. The cost was offset by increased agricultural production downstream and cheap hydro-electric power.

When completed in 1974, the Snowy Mountains Scheme had cost $1.16 billion, employed 100 000 people, and created huge irrigation areas. It now provides 17% of the electricity made in south-eastern Australia. Since water flow from dams is much easier to turn off than a coal-fired power station, Snowy hydro-electric plants supply the additional power needed in morning and evening peak use.

The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation now sells its engineering knowledge overseas. Perhaps there is a more significant legacy. The project is often used as an example for multiculturalism, having employed thousands of migrant engineers and labourers. People from over 30 different countries worked on the scheme. Their influence radically changed Australian culture for the better in the years that followed.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority : design and construction

Snowy Mountains Council : operation and maintenance
Key People
William Hudson : commissioner 1949-1967
Trygve Olsen : head investigating engineer
Nelson Lemmon : fostered scheme as minister

Further Reading
The Snowy: the people behind the power
S McHugh
William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne, 1989.

Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority
How did it manage without an EIA?
Snowy Water Inquiry into flow in the Snowy River
Is Sustainable use of the Snowy Mountains Scheme Possible?
SMEC, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation
Murray Darling Basin Commission
Environment Australia
Rebirth of the Snowy. ACF media release 6/10/00

Questions & Activities
Snowy Mountains Scheme

The Tumut 2 Tailwater Tunnel returns water from Tumut 2 Power Station to the Tumut river downstream. It was constructed from 1958 to 1961 and is 6.5 km long. Courtesy Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority.
These cross sections show the main features of the enormous scheme. Courtesy Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority.
The Eucembene - Tumut tunnel transfers water between Lake Eucembene and Tumut Pond. It was constructed from 1954 to 1959 and is 22.2 km long. Courtesy Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum