Website created in bid to protect Cliefden Caves from Needles Gap dam

THE plight of the Cliefden Caves, which are under threat of being flooded by the proposed Needles Gap dam, has united caving enthusiasts. 

The potential destruction of the limestone caves motivated one speleologist to build a website dedicated protecting them in order to preserve rare blue cave formations. 

Sydney university speleological society life member Bruce Welch created the website Save Cliefden Caves within two days of the state government’s announcement it would fund a $150 million, 90,000 megalitre dam along the Belubula River at Needles Gap. 

He said the caves’ potential to contribute to scientific knowledge about the earth had been untapped due to a lack of government funding.

To his knowledge, the caves were home to the only blue cave formations called speleothems, in Australia. 

“Because they are so beautiful they have been kept a secret,” he said. 

The blue speloethems range in colour from pale blue flowstone to the azure blue of stalactites and columns.

Most cave formations are cream or red. 

If the dam passes a feasibility study, expected to take two years, then the caves would be destroyed. 

“The decorations (cave formations) rival those of Jenolan Caves, but the Cliefden Caves remain in pristine condition,” he said. 

The potential scientific knowledge that would be lost was unfathomable, Mr Welch said, because there were parts of the cave system that had not yet been studied.

The caves contain at least 180 species of rugose corals and have abundant examples of some of the earliest shell beds on geological record. 

“Flooding these caves is like resuming whaling. There is always more jobs, tourism and economic benefit in preserving, exploring and treasuring nature than destroying it,” Mr Welch said. 

The website is a collection of facts, figures and pictures of the caves, collated from speleologists and history books. 

It can be found at http://bookproduction.org/savecliefdencaves.

Two-year deadline for feasibility study

THE state government is sticking by its two-year deadline to complete the $1 million feasibility study into the proposed Needles Gap dam.

The government announced it would build a $150 million, 90,000 megalitre dam along the Belubula River at Needles Gap three weeks ago in a bid to guarantee water security for the region. 

A feasibility study into the viability of the dam was funded as part of the state budget last week. 

The state government will compile the feasibility study and the state government will approve or reject the proposal. 

A spokesman for the deputy Premier’s office said Water NSW would have control of the study and government entities such as the NSW Department of Planning, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Infrastructure NSW and NSW Cabinet, as well as relevant federal government entities, would approve the project. 

“Given the nature of a project of this size, a number of approving authorities may be involved,” he said. 

“An independent, arm’s-length study will ensure all stakeholder views are considered and that the community has confidence in the eventual outcome.”

Economic, environmental, engineering and community considerations would all be taken into account within the study, he said, however, he could not provide timeframes on when these elements would occur. 

“It is vital that, should the dam concept come to fruition, its location represents the best value for money, involves minimal environmental impact and brings maximum benefit for water users in the region.”                       

nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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