Once free for those who could trap and store it in dams and tanks, water is becoming so expensive it is threatening the viability of ACT golf clubs.
Yet it also becoming a growing source of revenue for the territory, from charging irrigators who draw from new storages such as the Flemington Road Ponds.
Asked if these storages would be privatised, the ACT government said a decision on ownership would await the outcome of a trial for the new pond as well as those at Lyneham and Dickson, which would conclude in 2017-18. Meanwhile, ClubsACT says the government has reneged on agreed concessions on water charges for golf clubs, which threatened their viability.
ClubsACT policy manager Gwyn Rees says NSW users pay $10 a megalitre to abstract groundwater, while users in the ACT are charged $250 a megalitre. This gives golf clubs across the border a big advantage over ACT clubs.
The Murrumbidgee Country Club has an outstanding water abstraction charge of $11,000 from what it pumped from its dams in 2009-10.
General manager Warren James said the government could not provide details of what assistance was available under its competition equalisation scheme.
The scheme recognises the direct competition ACT water users face from NSW.
''We are drawing up to 100 megalitres in a dry year, so it is a lot of money, particularly when the industry is not real flash,'' Mr James said. ''If we knew what the equalisation scheme was, we might be a lot happier. ''It is a crazy situation. We are about four years behind in bills and they haven't sent us [an up-to-date] bill, and we don't know how much it is going to be when we get it.'' A spokesman for Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development Simon Corbell said golf clubs were ineligible for the competition equalisation scheme.
''However, in recognition of the situation of golf clubs in the ACT, the government has recently provided three clubs with an act of grace payment and waiver of their WAC fees,'' Mr Corbell said. ''And the government is looking at ways to provide support for golf clubs regarding their water use and charges.''
Mr Rees said the government should be encouraging growth of sporting facilities. ''In good faith and with patience, the clubs industry has worked with Minister Corbell and his directorate but we are no longer able to trust them,'' he said.
In some cases golf clubs have been able to offset water abstraction charges with the cost of water-saving improvements, such as dams, and reconstructing greens with couch grass. In two cases clubs have either closed or sold greens.
Mr James said Murrumbidgee had no money for water-saving improvements to offset the WAC.
''Anything we have done we have done through small grants from the government and the Department of Sport and Recreation,'' he said.
Mr Rees said the government wanted the clubs industry to make a case for equalisation, but the industry first needed to know how the scheme worked.
''We want to make a case. We believe there is a case because they compete with NSW. People travel and membership at Queanbeyan is cheaper,'' he said.
A spokesman for Mr Corbell said ACT agricultural irrigators producing agricultural produce in direct competition with irrigators in NSW were eligible for equalisation concessions.