Hunter Water staff spent 450 hours and racked up a $320,000 bill to comply with a request from the NSW Parliament to provide information about its planning for a possible new Lower Hunter dam.
The extraordinary cost to taxpayers emerged in a letter written by Hunter Water managing director Darren Cleary to accompany the documents.
The information search was triggered by an Upper House resolution to support a call for papers motion by Independent MP Justin Field.
The Opposition and independents are making increased use of the call for papers mechanism (also known as Standing Order 52) as a way of extracting information from government departments and state-owned corporations.
Mr Field, who also sought information about the Lower Hunter Water Plan, said he moved the motion in an effort to increase transparency about water planning in the region.
The option of building a new dam to improve water security appeared to be a no-go zone since the collapse of the controversial Tillegra Dam project in 2011.
However, Hunter Water revealed earlier this year that it had identified two locations for a possible satellite dam as part of its review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan.
The news triggered immediate protest from those opposed to new dams and communities which may be affected if the project proceeds.
Fourteen boxes of information were delivered to the Parliament by last week's deadline.
Eight boxes were classified as public and six were privileged.
An additional seven boxes, including five public and two privileged, were delivered to the Parliament on Wednesday.
In his letter, Mr Cleary said the Parliament's order related to " an extensive process to develop a long-term, complex, regional water security program, incorporating the consideration of a variety of potential projects, involving numerous Hunter Water business units."
"Due to the scale of this task, significant time and technology resources were required to identify and produce relevant documents.
"Due to the extensive scope, the total cost to Hunter Water of complying with the requirements of this Order to date has been in the vicinity of $320,000 in external costs, and, in addition, required approximately 450 hours of Hunter Water staff time."
Mr Cleary estimated six terabytes of data, the equivalent of 55 million data files was searched.
"Given the extensive nature, advanced forensic software was used to identify likely relevant documents within the scope of the Order, which were then manually reviewed, indexed, printed and collated for production," he said.
Mr Field, who is currently analysing the material, described the costs involved in producing the documents as "outrageous."
"It's outrageous that Hunter Water has spent more than $15,000 a box to provide a basic level of transparency about their operations and planning," he said.
"This call for papers was not extensive compared to others that have gone through the Parliament and represents a bare minimum of transparency that the public should expect from a State Owned Corporation developing multi-billion dollar plans for future water supply to the Lower Hunter.
"The complaints about the costs and complexity of the document search raises questions about the process and systems in place at Hunter Water. If they can't easily find the documents related to this major planning process, how can the community have confidence in the process?
Water Minister Melinda Pavey said the time and money spent to produce the documents could have been better spent elsewhere.
"In this time of economic crisis, is this really the best way to use taxpayer money?," she said.
"SO52 is an important transparency tool, however it should not be abused to the point of wasting staff time and taxpayer money.
"The SO52 requires only hard copies of documents, Mr Field received around 85,000 pieces of paper. I would like to know whether he has read all the documents that cost $320,000 to have prepared for him."
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