CALL FOR SUPPORT: Cliefden Caves could form part of a NSW upper house inquiry into water storage. Photo: ROBERT KERSHAW

OPPONENTS to a dam on the Belubula River hope a NSW upper house inquiry into the state’s water storage and the Orange byelectionwill generate additional support for Cliefden Caves.

The Save Cliefden Caves Associationissued a callfor its 15,000 members to make a submission to the inquiry, which closed on Sunday.

In its submission, the association said the caves would be inundated if a dam was built at Cranky Rock or Needles Gap, theywerethe most significant cave system in NSW outside a national park and home to 450 million-year-old fossils.

It also said the Belubula Riverwas already dammed in several places and had previously run dry.

With the inquiry examining the whole of western NSW in addition to the management of Menindee Lakes atBroken Hill, association spokesmanHarrison Burkitt hoped some attention would fall on the Belubula, with at least five submissionslodged.

“The government doesn’t have to go with the recommendation, but if we can get some people on the committee talking about the Belubula dam, and in parliament, that’s what we want,” he said.

Panel vice chair and Labor MLC Mick Veitch said he had not yet seen any submissions on the Belubula, but the panel would continue to accept them past the cutoff.

“The way the inquiry works, the submissions determine where the committee goes and what the report looks like so people should get their submissions in for either side of the argument,” he said.

“Once they’re flooded,they’re gone.”

The panel will report back by October 27 next year.

Mr Burkittbelieved with some people around Canowindra turning their votes away from The Nationals at the last state election, the issue had the potential to influence the Orange byelection in November.

“We want to put questions to the candidates,” he said.

Nationals candidate for Orange Scott Barrett said he supported the proposal, subject to the completion of the feasibility study.

“If you look at the benefit to irrigation, water security, flood mitigation and tourism even, economic viability would benefit,” he said.

“With thisrain we hadrecently, people were lamenting the fact they didn’t have a damalready.”

Both he and former Country Labor candidateBernard Fitzsimon said the issue would be one of many in the byelection.

However, Mr Fitzsimon said Labor would oppose the proposal because it was shallow with a high evaporation rate and the river was already over-allocated.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction to the central west jobs crisis,” he said.

Water NSW is seeking tenders to continue studies.

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