A WATER stoush is brewing between Whitehaven Coal and irrigators, after the mining company bought up groundwater for more than twice the usual market value.
The Leader understands Whitehaven forked out more than $650,000 on water licences, purchasing 460 megalitres of temporary water in Zone 4 for $950 a megalitre and 43 megalitres of permanent water in Zone 5 for $5100 a megalitre.
In these dry conditions, the price of groundwater is already inflated. Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker said about $400 a megalitre was previously the highest price paid for temporary water.
"Even then, you're expecting that to be paid by someone who has crop in-ground they need to finish off, and they've got no other option," she said.
"For the last decade, permanent water had traded at about $3500 a megalitre."
Boggabri farmer David Watt said it wasn't unusual to sell off excess water, but it was "normally sold over the fence".
"We’re being totally outbid in the water market by mining giants," Mr Watt said.
"There is no way farmers can pay over $900 a megalitre for groundwater. We question the financial viability of our crops when it gets to around $350."
Whitehaven declined to answer The Leader's specific questions, instead responding with a statement.
"We are not a large water user generally, and also not compared to irrigation," a spokesperson said.
"The region is in severe drought and it is prudent for us to take steps as a company to ensure continuity of supply using a variety of different mechanisms, in addition to those measures we adopt to conserve water for which we have existing entitlements.
"In the 2018 fisical year, our operations had total allocations of 9978 megalitres and we utilised a little over half of that allocation - and then recycled about 70 per cent of that figure."
Whitehaven said it was aware water was a precious resource, which was why it periodically shared it with neighbouring landholders when it had a surplus.