Above: Central West community group representatives gather on the Belubula River to voice their disapproval over the proposed dam.
THE Belubula River Alliance has been formed between local, regional, state and national groups because of the significance of the proposal to build a new instream dam in the Murray Darling Basin.
This particular dam on the Belubula River threatens the internationally significant Cliefden Caves and many other important environmental and social considerations.
There are numerous questions to be asked of the NSW Coalition Government in regard to the re-emergence of this dam proposal. It has been given a new breath of life by the National Party.
In depth studies conducted in the 1960’s ruled out these dam sites. This was because of the extensive limestone formations that are unsuitable to hold large bodies of surface water.
The expressions of interest for tenders to conduct the second stage feasibility study into the proposed Cranky Rock Dam closed on 22 March this year. We wonder why the Government has taken so long to decide on the successful applicant. We also wonder why the upcoming announcement has been made during the Orange by election.
There have been no terms of reference released for the second stage feasibility study. Many important matters must be researched. Detailed information is required to fully understand the potential impacts of this proposal.
The first question that we ask is: who will benefit from the dam and who will pay for it?
There have been a range of conflicting interests placed on the table seeking ‘improved water security’. These include mining, irrigation, town water supply and recreational use.
There will be no new water licences made available because a dam does not make new water. A new dam in the Belubula River will redistribute the current water shares away from users further downstream in the Lachlan system.
There are a complex set of water sharing rules in the Lachlan Valley that will have to be renegotiated if a new large water impoundment is constructed in the upper river.
The concept of ‘improved water security’ must be explained in terms of for who?
If the new dam is to supply water for additional large gold mining projects in the Central West, licences would have to be purchased from the irrigation industry. This would decrease the output of irrigated produce in the region and impact on those service industries.
If the new dam is to increase security for town water supply, those licences have a very high priority during drought and would impact on the availability of general security licences in drier times.
If recreational use of the dam and increased tourism to the region is the purpose of the dam, it would need a level of water retained to provide these benefits.
The downstream communities such as Lake Cargelligo and those dependent on river flow for stock and domestic licences in the lower Lachlan will lose some of their water security if a new dam is built upstream.
The National Party, Lachlan Valley Water and Belubula Landholders Alliance have not clearly identified who they are representing in their call for a new dam on the Belubula River.
Not only will the Cliefden Caves be under threat but very large and very productive properties with river frontage will be inundated and lost forever if the proposal goes ahead.
Large instream dams cause a number of significant environmental impacts. These include cold water pollution, deoxygenation of water and loss of fish passage up and down to breeding sites.
The mitigation of these impacts will add significantly to the cost of the proposal.
The Belubula River Alliance looks forward to a rigorous costs benefits analysis in the stage 2 feasibility report.
Inland River Netwok - Belubula River Alliance member organisation