OPPOSITION to the proposed dam at Needles Gap south of Orange is hardly unexpected but it must be worked through in a more consultative manner than that suggested by member for Calare John Cobb when the announcement was made.
When Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner announced last week the NSW government would fund the dam to the tune of $150 million, a proposal with little more publicity than a photo opportunity with Mr Cobb and a group of the region’s mayors at the site in January was suddenly on the launch pad.
Instead of the usual drip feed of funding for the environmental assessment and planning process, residents were effectively told Macquarie Street had made up its mind.
But despite it being state money, Mr Cobb quickly warned that the community would have no tolerance for anyone standing in the way of a project that is expected to generate jobs in mining and agriculture.
That there will be opposition from The Greens and environmental groups is certain. Where the Nationals celebrated the first dam to be built in the state in 30 years as a huge positive, the Greens see the change in direction after so long as a return to water policy that threatened river systems and created national problems like that seen in the Murray-Darling Basin.
The Needles Gap project is a very small dam compared to enormous storages like Wyangala and Burrendong, however there must be an impact downstream when water is stored and this will need to be assessed in a very public way.
There will be concerns too about the impact on the network of limestone caves in the valley. These issues will have to be weighed against the improved water security of towns in the area, including Orange, if storages like Cacoar Dam can be switched from agriculture to town supplies.
A decision to do something about the region’s water security should be applauded but sound assessment processes should not be abandoned in the haste to get the project started.