Warning and Disclaimer

So this is just a blog I'm using to upload a bunch of the essays and assessment tasks I wrote for my various uni degrees. Basically I put a lot of effort into some of these and it seems a waste for them to only be read once... so I figured upload them onto the web and see if anyone looks at them.

did ok at most of my essays, some better than others so copy the ideas at your own risk... Given the slow increase in my marks over the years clearly it took me a while to get started. You can probably work out when I wrote each assessment based on the length of the reference list (and there's probably a correlation with the marks I received for that assessment too)

I had a glance over the cover sheets and don't think there's anything stopping me uploading them as I don't think the uni claims ownership over them. You sign off saying that the work has never been submitted before, not that you won't do anything with it later.

That all being said, if you do find these useful for your own uni work... DON'T copy them (not because I care about you copying them) but because you WILL get done for plagarism yourself... Take some of the main points if you want, definitely steal my reference lists, but don't copy text from the essay because you will get done...

So yeah, read on if you're interested, follow up the references... but don't copy if you know what's good for you

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Detail the biophysical, economic and social costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme. Discuss the potential for a win-win resolution. What would you recommend and why?

The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme was begun in 1949 and was completed in 1974. It was the largest ever engineering project undertaken in Australia. It consists of 16 dams, 145 km of tunnels and 80 km of aqueducts and has had a clear biogeomorphic effect on the Snowy River (Erskine et al., 1999). The issues that surround the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric scheme are extraordinarily complicated due to all the different stakeholder groups along various parts of the scheme. This and the un-quantifiable nature of many aspects of river health have made it extraordinarily difficult for decision makers to come to a resolution that satisfies everybody affected.

The costs and benefits of the scheme can be very hard at some times to differentiate between. Often what one group sees as a benefit other groups see as a cost. Also benefits to one group can lead indirectly to costs for other groups. The costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme can be divided into three divisions: Biophysical costs and benefits, Economic costs and benefits and Social costs and benefits. Recently there has been much debate over the returning of 28% of the pre-Snowy Scheme flow to the Snowy River to serve as environmental flow, and this debate revealed the many differing views on how the scheme should be managed and its relative costs and benefits to different stakeholder groups.
The Biophysical costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountain scheme are the easiest to identify as they are obvious changes to the Environment that can be monitored. The basis of the biophysical change due to the scheme (whether this is a benefit or cost) is due to the diversion of water from one river system (the Snowy River) to a different series of river systems (the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers), and the resultant affect on the two catchments. A series of dams, tunnels and aqueducts exist to control river flow and generate hydroelectricity. As a natural river system the Snowy River had a highly variable natural flow regime (peaking around October with 292,239 ML flowing in that month and lowest in January with 41,203 ML flowing) with a total average flow in one year of 1,622,437. After the scheme this flow was reduced to 67,404 ML a year peaking around June (at 8,990) and then later in October (at 8965). Since Dam closure in 1967 the Snowy River has had a flow of almost constantly less than the most severe drought on record (Erskine et al., 1999). Diagram one shows the peak annual flow of the snowy river at Dalgety and how it has decreased since the Snowy scheme was completed.
This has led to major problems for the snowy river below Jindabyne Dam. Since the scheme was completed there has been a decrease in the channel width. This is due to the dumping of sediment by the river, which was caused by the river inability to transport the sediment due to the decrease in flow power. The result of this is the transformation of the Snowy River into a braided river, which is not natural at all.

The Snowy River’s flow is being diverted into the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers to aid in irrigation. This means that the flow in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers is affected by rainfall in a completely different catchment, which would have an effect on the rivers biophysical processes. The flow from the Snowy Counts for 10% of the regular flow in the Murray River and 25% of the Murrumbidgee River’s flow, however in drought conditions this changes to 33% for the Murray River and 60% of the flow for the Murrumbidgee River (Snowy Water Inquiry, 1998). The Snowy Scheme also changed the seasonality of the flows in these rivers, the Tumut River that is a tributary of the Murrumbidgee River and it no longer peaks in August and September, it now peaks around October to January, which would have an effect on the rivers biophysical processes. A small biophysical benefit of the Snowy Mountains scheme would be the fact that it provides reliable water flow into the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers where much of Australia’s agricultural products come from. Another benefit is the claim that if coal power station where used to generate the electricity provided by the scheme 5,000,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) would have been produced (Snowy Water Inquiry, 1998), so in theory the scheme does have some environmental benefits for other locations.
The economic costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountains scheme are also easy to determine, but are complicated by the differing desires of all the groups involved. Also the biophysical effects were almost all actual “costs” of the Snowy Mountain Scheme. Economically however the scheme has both costs and benefits. The schemes main economic benefits lie in the provision of Hydroelectricity and the water for irrigation diverted down the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Undeniably the schemes completion led to many economic benefits but the current debate around he economic costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountain scheme is based around the return of an “environmental flow” to the snowy river. Environmental Flow is defined in The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Ac 1997 (NSW) as “Flows in rivers and streams which mimic natural seasonal flows which restore and maintain the ecology of those rivers and streams” (Snowy Water Inquiry, 1998). For the Snowy River an Environmental flow would consist of at least 28% of the pre-scheme flow. At the moment the flow is less the 1% of the pre-scheme flow. The 28% required, as the environmental flow was determined by an expert panel and represents the minimum return of flow needed for the Snowy to recover. The economic costs and benefits of the environmental flow were many. The costs for not diverting the flow were mainly Biophysical and Social ones; there weren’t very many economic costs if there was no environmental flow. The Economic costs and benefits being debated were based around there being water released back into the Snowy River as environmental flow. The economic costs of an environmental flow being put into place are based around the loss of agricultural productivity due to the loss of irrigation water. The Murrumbidgee River Management board in their submission to the Snowy Water Inquiry estimate that every 1% reduction in irrigation water threatened $7,000,000 worth of agricultural production a year, threatened 54 jobs in agriculture and 150 jobs in the Murrumbidgee region. This may be an exaggeration as the River management board are trying to prove a point. However there are economic benefits being put forward, especially in the local area. It is claimed by many different groups that an increased flow down the Snowy River would increase tourism to the area. These groups also want to keep Lake Jindabyne at a high level also. Many companies rely on the river for rafting and other such adventure activities and increased river flow would also increase fishing opportunities in the river both of which would lead to increased tourism and therefore money to the area.
The costs and benefits of the Snowy Mountain Scheme are the most complicated though when the social costs and benefits are considered. This is because social issues are hard to quantify, harder to find a direct solution to and often they are close to people’s hearts. The Snowy River is a heritage-listed river in Australia due to its idealised role in postcolonial history and has inspired some of the most widely known Australian art and poetry. This has led to it having high intrinsic value and many people feel that it should be looked after for this fact. Once again the resumption of flow down the Snowy River caused debate as to the relative social benefits and costs of the returning of flow to the Snowy River. The social benefits are to do with the restoration of a national icon to a semblance of its former health (if not its former glory) and the benefits to the nearby community due to an enhanced economy and the intrinsic benefits of a healthy river ecosystem nearby. The social costs of returning an environmental flow seem to revolve around what would happen to towns along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers if their irrigation water level were reduced enough to have a serious economic impact.

There are many costs and benefits that the Snowy Mountain Scheme provides Biophysically, Economically and Socially and these are scattered unevenly over a large area. The major debate recently was about the return of 28% of the pre-scheme flow to the Snowy River as an environmental flow and its biophysical, economic and social costs and benefits. There weren’t to many biophysical costs and there were many biophysical benefits for an environmental flow returning to the Snowy River, this concentrated environmental benefits around the Snowy River and the surrounding areas. The economic costs of an environmental flow being created were concentrated around losses to the agricultural industry along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers due to the reduction of water for irrigation. Economic benefits from an environmental flow being put in place where concentrated in boosts to the local economy of the Snowy River area. The social costs and benefits of the allocation of an environmental flow were the hardest to locate geographically, but social problems could result from economic pressure along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers if an environmental flow was implemented. This shows that communities along the Snowy would benefit overall if some of the flow that should be proceeding down the Snowy River actually did flow down the river rather then being diverted down to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers as it is thanks to the Snowy Mountain Scheme.

Communities that are reliant on irrigation from the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers mainly cover the costs of returning some of the Snowy rivers flow to it. This would make it in these communities best interest to resist any attempt to return the Snowy rivers flow to a semi-natural state, and as it is a major public relations disaster (normally) for any organization to try to actively thwart an attempt to improve the environmental quality these organizations have to concentrate on demonstrating how they would be negatively economically affected. This is a good example of how a resource and environment decision can provide benefits at one location at the expense of another location, which is why all decisions must be carefully thought through. The initial decision to build the scheme was providing benefits to the Murray and Murrumbidgee communities at the expense of the Snowy Rivers communities, and if a Cost-Benefit analysis was done at the time it probably wouldn’t have found in favour of the development (Geos 265 Lecture Material, 2002).

This seesawing of costs and benefits from the Snowy River communities to the Murray and Murrumbidgee communities and back again makes it nearly impossible for a win-win situation to develop. The economic factors would seem to favour no extra flow to the Snowy River however the biophysical and social factor favour at least a return to a minimum of 28% of the pre scheme flow (28% being the “magic number” recommended by an expert panel to save the Snowy River). The Snowy River however is a National Icon (and therefore an emotional issues for many people) and the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric scheme provides 17% of South East Australia’s electricity capacity which means that the decisions made over the Snowy are national issues and when considered at this scale it would be in the best interests of the country to do everything it can to aid in the rivers recovery to health, but it would be impossible to return the river to it’s former glory as this would have an adverse affect on the agricultural economy and electricity generation so that would never be allowed to proceed. With more efficient irrigation methods along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers an environmental flow could be maintained along the Snowy River with almost no economic costs.

Erskine, W., Terrazzolo, N., Warner, R., (1999) River rehabilitation from the Hydrogeomorphic impacts of a large Hydro-Electric power project: Snowy River, Australia, Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 15, pp. 3-24
Erskine, W., Turner, L., Terrazzolo, N., Warner, R., (1999) Recovery of the Snowy River: Politics and Rehabilitation, Australian Geographical Studies 37, pp. 330-337
Fagan, B., Geos265 Lecture Material, Macquarie University, 18/9/2002
Snowy Water Inquiry (1998) Snowy Water Inquiry: Issues Paper, Snowy Water Inquiry, Sydney
Submissions to the Snowy Water Inquiry www.snowywaterinquiry.org.au/submission.htm accessed September 2002
Young, A. (2000) Environmental Change in Australia since 1788, Oxford University Press, Melbourne

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