Needles ... and pins over Belubula River dams

By Orange local IAN CURTIS    Dec. 6, 2014

fillherup.jpgFILL HER UP: Member for Calare John Cobb at the Needles Gap proposed dam site in January 2014.

LIKE all readers I am concerned about water security in our area.

I have been aware, in recent years, especially during the millennium drought, of the attempts to ensure certainty of supply; water harvesting, building pipelines to the Macquarie River, raising the Suma Park Dam wall. 

Extra pressures have been placed on our finite supplies and on community cohesion, by the enormous water demands of Cadia Valley Operations (CVO) and I read of the buying up of water licences and diverting water catchments -  the Macquarie to the Lachlan.

But now we have a proposal to build a new dam at the Needles, a dam with a wall height of 49 metres that will hold 90,000 ML of water. 

Our federal MP, John Cobb, tells us that it will bring jobs -surely a good thing, and bring new mining investment. He talks of three new mines. 

The dam will ensure security of supply to Canowindra lucerne growers and downstream licence holders. Town water will be more secure.

With all this rattling around in my head I was most anxious to attend the information evening  advertised by the Central West Environment Council at Orange City Bowling Club to get a wider viewpoint. What I heard there, at a meeting attended by over 100 citizens, was most startling. There were three speakers: a water expert; a caving expert and a landcare advocate.

I learnt the Belubula River is 165 kilometres long and its headwaters are between Bathurst and Orange. With many tributaries it joins the Lachlan near Gooloogong. The Lachlan flows down from our high country, meandering westward. In its lower reaches on the wide plains there are important marshes (Booligal floodplains and the Cumbung Swamp). The Lachlan catchment is a major part of the Murray-Darling River system. 

I learnt that State Water has been commissioned to report to the NSW government this year with a detailed study on 13 sites on the Belubula/Lachlan, of which the Needles site is one.  Six dams are already on the Belubula system; Carcoar Dam, (38,000ML), Lake Rowlands (4500ML), two CVO dams, an overflow dam on Flyers Creek and a small 19th century dam at Junction Reefs. Fifteen large dams (and several smaller) are on the river system. Farm dams aren’t taken into consideration.

I learnt the federal government has bought back 87,856ML of water to help the Murray/Darling and the NSW government is proposing to capture 90,000ML; that by law no less water is to flow into the Murray/Darling. So, if these mines go ahead - one group has already pulled out, citing lower gold prices - someone extracting water has to lose their entitlements. 

Climate projections are for a warmer, dryer future with greater evaporation problems at water storage ponds. I learnt that Australian inland rivers need water flushes to clean them - remember the blue-green algae problems during the drought when water in the Murray/Darling was poisonous?

Caving experts (speleologists)-  at the meeting  there were several - talked of earlier geological studies that showed the Needles site has been twice before rejected by NSW governments because of geological constraints. 

They outlined what we would lose by way of caves and fossils and tufa dams and even a rare hot spring. They spoke of the area’s international importance.

Higher temperatures. Less rain. Same extraction. Legislative boundaries. Drying swamps. Alternative water strategies. Monetary and environmental costs. Leaking limestone. Public purse. He who talks loudest gets water. I learnt that this dam is not the answer to our water security. Dams do not create water.

Original article pulished in Cenral Western Daily at

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