Relations between Murrumbidgee Irrigation and one of its customers has hit a new low.
The water company's employees and contractors were escorted by security to start work removing meters and rebuilding a channel on Stuart and Katrina Heffer's Leeton property last Thursday.
Murrumbidgee Irrigation's chief executive Brett Jones said it was an unusual step for the company to use security, but it was on advice from the local police.
"This step was taken after the development of a safety plan, in consultation with the local police, to protect our people and our contractors," Mr Jones said.
The Heffers and Murrumbidgee Irrigation have been involved in a decades-long dispute over the meters installed at the Heffers' property in the late 1990s.
The Heffers say the meters have never been accurate and as a result, Murrumbidgee Irrigation had overcharged them significantly for water use.
"In 2011 they charged us more than two times the area average for our rice," Mr Heffer said.
"We used to use 12 megalitres per hectare and we got billed for 26ML per hectare."
Mr Heffer also said Murrumbidgee Irrigation had blocked their attempts to have the meter tested by an independent party.
Mr Jones said Murrumbidgee Irrigation adamantly refutes Mr Heffer's claims in regards to the meters and said the company did not intend to comment further on a single-point issue in such a long-running dispute.
He said the current action being undertaken at the Heffer's was to rebuild a section of the channel due to extensive damage caused by a large number of sheep Mr Heffer had allowed access to the channel without authorisation by Murrumbidgee Irrigation.
Mr Jones said to rebuild the channel, existing infrastructure had to be removed and the company took the opportunity to replace older style meters with new pattern-approved meters.
However, the Heffers see the action as an excuse to cover up any inaccuracies in their meters and do not believe the meters will be replaced.
"Last year they said the sheep are drinking out of the channel so we're stealing water and the sheep have damaged the channel bank, so we're in breach of the contract," Mr Heffer said.
"We had just put the farms up for sale so they left it alone.
"We haven't been able to sell the farms and now they're here in my paddocks pegging out to rebuild this channel.
"They're going to shift the channel, pull the meters and these are the meters they've tested and are trying to cover up ... and we're going to pay for it, they're going to bill us for it."
Mr Jones stated Murrumbidgee Irrigation was seeking to recover costs for the damage to company infrastructure, as per their contracts.
He said the company offered the opportunity to all its customers to adjust the size and location of meters to meet future needs when it replaced any meter and was awaiting Mr Heffer's confirmation as to what size meters he required.