FARMERS operating solely on mains water for their livestock may have bills running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars this year because of recent price rises by SA Water.
From July 1, SA Water increased prices by an average of 21.7 per cent to start recovering the cost of water-security measures, such as the billion-dollar desalination plant at Port Stanvac.
But it has left many primary producers across South Australia wondering how they are expected to run their businesses when SA Water pipelines are the only source of water they have.
Meningie dairyfarmer Clem Mason said his water bill had increased from $1.28 a kilolitre to $2.48/kL in the past 12 months, an increase of nearly 50pc.
"And SA Water projections have suggested the price will go up to $2.98/kL in the autumn," he said.
"I know of one beef farmer who is paying up to $250,000 a year for water, while a Lower Lakes dairyfarmer with 300 cows would be looking at a bill of $70,000 to $80,000.
"I know SA Water is supposed to supply water to South Australians for a price, and of course they don't want to lose out from the desalination plant. But they should be prepared for the possibility of losing a lot of big customers if prices for stock water stay as they are."
Mr Mason said many farmers were already looking for water from different sources, such as underground, because they were unable to sustain their farms on SA Water supplies.
"Some people may say water is still cheap but they don't know what it is like to run stock 24-7," he said.
"For those who do run stock all the time, like dairy, beef or pigs, these prices are unbelievable. If some of these people do not find alternative means, they may leave the industry all together."
Growing concern among the local community prompted a group of farmers, including Mr Mason, to organise a meeting with Water Minister Paul Caica and a representative from SA Water to discuss their concerns and possibly come up with a reasonable approach to pricing water.
Such solutions included the possibility of farmers buying an allocation, which would then be cleaned and transported by SA Water at a cost, or the introduction of a different rate for industry and stock water.
"We have been asked to return for a secondary meeting in the New Year with more ideas and case studies of how this is affecting farmers," Mr Mason said.
Water Minister Paul Caica said he would consider the concerns raised by the farmers.
"If anything can be done to assist them, I will respond in due course," he said. "We don't have another meeting planned at this point."
In October 2008, SA Water laid potable-water pipelines as part of the Lower Lakes Pipelines Project in response to ongoing drought conditions. The purpose of the project was to ensure a secure water supply to properties which had previously relied on water drawn directly from the Lower Lakes.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.