(Bloomberg) -- Authorities aim to impose tighter regulation on water-network operators in Australia’s New South Wales state after an investigation by Bloomberg News showed the biggest provider withheld huge volumes of water at the height of the last drought.

The Dec. 27 article exposed a confidential agreement by Murray Irrigation Ltd., operator of Australia’s largest private water-supply network, to withhold more than a hundred billion liters of water from users in 2019. New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, was in drought at the time.

Read More: The Water Trade Is Booming — and Sucking Australia Dry

Giving testimony in the state parliament on Wednesday, Water Minister Rose Jackson said she had asked the Energy and Water Ombudsman to explore expanding its jurisdiction to include organizations like Murray Irrigation. Jackson said if the watchdog could not do so, she would consider other paths.

“If they come back to me and say that they’re unable to do that, that’s not the end of the story for me. I will look at other opportunities,” Jackson said when questioned by Greens Party legislator Cate Faehrmann about the government’s response to the Bloomberg News investigation. “I don’t think that the current level of regulatory oversight is necessarily adequate.” 

Initial inquiries by Jackson’s department following the article, which Bloomberg stands by, found that Murray Irrigation’s water carryover was legal. The question now is whether the rules themselves are sufficient, Jackson told Faehrmann, who is the Greens’ spokesperson for water in New South Wales.

“In terms of the regulation of the irrigation infrastructure operators, I share your concerns about transparency and accountability,” Jackson said.

Read More: Australian Legislator Urges Water Probe Amid ‘Shocking’ Data

Ron McCalman, Murray Irrigation’s chief executive officer, described the company’s water holdback as a confidential client matter when he was interviewed for the story last year. In a newsletter published on Feb. 6, Murray Irrigation said Bloomberg News had made “incorrect assertions regarding the use of carryover water.”

The article showed that government-issued licenses to divert water from floodplains in northern New South Wales allow farmers to extract 37% more than authorities estimated was already being taken. In some locations, irrigators have been permitted to extract nearly three times more floodplain water each year than the government’s initial estimates, the story showed.

Questioned about the authorized volumes, Jackson said she’s open to reviewing a condition of the licenses that allows unused water to be carried over for up to five years, if it leads to water extraction breaching legal limits.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.