Farmers struggling in drought conditions have been hit hard by the South Australian Government's decision to raise Natural Resource Management (NRM) water levies.

SA Environment Minister Ian Hunter has been forced to defend the plans to raise $6.7 million in additional costs over the next year.

Mr Hunter says that for the last five years, the State Government has protected consumers from water management costs.

“All governments around the country signed up to the National Water Initiative over five or six years ago now and that initiative requires us to pass on the cost of managing water,” he said.

“The Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources spends around $43 million every year on water management services and have been passing on very little of it and the time has come where we need to pass those costs on.

“I think the current cost per megalitre in the south east, for example, is $2.67 and a comparison with New South Wales in the similar situation is you would be paying somewhere between $6 and $7 for that water,” Mr Hunter said.

But he said higher prices would bring benefits down the line.

“The upshot of that is we can actually release more water from a resource for productive use because we have a greater understanding of that water resource and greater confidence that it's sustainable into the future,” Mr Hunter said.

“If we weren't to understand that resource and do the monitoring over the years, sure we can cut costs but that will mean we'd have to make much more conservative decisions about allocations and reduce allocations.”

Primary Producers SA wants the Government to undertake an independent review of water management costs.

“After the drainage debate, Emergency Services Levy increases of up to 1,000 per cent and drought across much of the region there is significant anger about the extra impost,” Primary Producers SA chairman Rob Kerin said last week.

Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the Government is working on drought relief measures for farmers, and should be able to announce something in the next few weeks.