RISING water prices are having a crippling effect on the agricultural industry in South Australia with some farmers near the Lower Lakes looking for alternative supplies with little success.
While the final Murray Darling Basin Authority plan is still to be released, the region's farmers are waiting to see whether Lake Albert will remain a reliable water source under proposed cuts.
The cost of mains water has risen from $1.88 a kilolitre 12 months ago to $2.48/kL.
Poltalloch mixed farmer Clem Mason, who milks 200 cows, grows cereals and canola and runs sheep on his property on the shores of Lake Alexandrina, said meetings with SA Water and Water Minister Paul Caica had only concluded that prices would continue to rise.
Although Mr Mason believed the Minister had empathy for those struggling, he said "it's not only around Meningie, but people in the Mallee, Lower North and the Barossa are starting to ask questions and wonder how they're going to afford carrying on with SA Water with the way prices are going".
"Water is becoming our biggest cost. If we're forced to pay exorbitant prices on water then we'll have to cut back on other things like fertiliser, feed supplements or health benefits for stock," he said.
Mr Mason said some farmers around Meningie had tried putting bores in as an alternative to mains water but the source underground was either too salty or there was none there at all.
"Some have looked at putting desalination equipment on underground water supplies but that's not cost-effective because of Environmental Protection Agency implications on where you get rid of the salt you take out of the water."
Meningie farmer Henry Angas said he was considering a pipeline from the lake to his farm to try and save money on water.
Mr Angas runs 1500 head of mixed breed beef cattle and does a small amount of cropping on his 3200-hectare farm south-east of Meningie.
"The problem with the lake is that it's marginal for quality and putting a pipeline in would only be under the assumption that water quality is going to improve and stay of a high quality for a long period of time."
"We need about 15 megalitres of water a year for our business and we're paying the equivalent of $2480/mgL and we pay it every year."
Mr Angas believes a two-tiered pricing system for mains water could be an alternative option because it was costing too much to keep water up to livestock.
"Water prices in SA have a flat rate right across the board. Consumers in Adelaide are paying the same amount that we pay for our livestock," he said.
"They can charge me for what we use in the house. Basically, we're being used to raise revenue for the State Government."
But Mr Caica said there were other issues having a similar or bigger impact on the agricultural industry.
"The advice provided to me was that while the increased price of water to SA Water users increased, production cost to varying degrees, it was only one of number of factors affecting production costs," he said. "In respect to agriculture, it was also noted that such issues as low commodity prices, the high Australian dollar and the impact of the long drought are having at least as much if not more impact."
*Full report in Stock Journal, April 7 issue, 2011.