Snowy Mountains hydro scheme

Year:1974

Duration:25 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Australia

What did this project achieve?

Devise a scheme that provides water and generates power for eastern Australia

The Snowy Mountains hydro scheme is a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south east Australia. Sometimes known as the Snowy, it’s Australia’s largest engineering project.

Built between 1949 and 1974, the project consists of 16 major dams, 7 power stations, 2 pumping stations and 225km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts.

The scheme covers an area of 5,124km², mostly within the Kosciuszko National Park. The design was modelled on the Tennessee Valley Authority, a hydro scheme in the Tennessee Valley in the US.

The project collects water from melting snow and rain in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. The water is diverted from the Snowy and Tumut rivers and stored in reservoirs to create electricity. It’s then diverted into the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers via tunnels through the mountains.

As well as producing electricity the Snowy also supplies water to the arid farming areas of New South Wales and Victoria.

The scheme’s construction was an important part of Australia's post-WW2 economic and social development.

The project was rated as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world in 1967 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Difference the scheme has made

Snowy hydro currently provides 32% of all renewable energy available to eastern Australia – benefiting cities such as Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.

Water from the scheme is used in towns and for irrigation and environmental purposes.

The size and scope of the 25 year project meant engineers developed new construction methods. Despite the deaths of over 100 workers during construction the scheme is credited with setting new standards in health and safety.

How the work was done

More than 100,000 people worked on the Snowy hydro. Many of these were migrants from over 30 countries. Workers were housed in specially built camps and settlements. Two of these became permanent; Khancoban and Cabramurra – the highest town in Australia

Building the scheme was very difficult and mostly in tough conditions. The work was almost entirely underground with a lot of tunnelling mostly through granite rock.

Engineers built railways to and from the tunnel sites during construction. These were used to carry away earth and to deliver concrete and equipment.

Digging the tunnels was dirty, wet, noisy and sometimes dangerous. 121 workers died during the 25 year project.

The project saw the installation of Australia's first transistorised computer and one of the first in the world. Called 'Snowcom', it was used from 1960 to 1967.

"​‌

Snowy is an icon… it conjures many stories of tens of thousands of European migrants… working on the Snowy, becoming part of this country.

John Howard

Australian Prime Minister

Fascinating facts

The Snowy’s 17 dams have a combined capacity 12 times that of Sydney harbour.

The project provides water for an irrigated farming industry worth about A$3bn a year - more than 40% of the gross value of Australia's agricultural production.

The Snowy scheme was added to Australia’s National Heritage list in October 2016. The list is a register of places viewed as being important for the country’s natural or cultural history.

People who made it happen

  • Client: The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority
  • Chief engineer: Sir William Hudson

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