Thrill-seekers advised more rain expected in the ranges

The Clutha River spills into a picnic area on Hasborough Pl,  Balclutha, yesterday. Photo by Helena de Reus.
The Clutha River spills into a picnic area on Hasborough Pl, Balclutha, yesterday. Photo by Helena de Reus.

Otago Regional Council flood managers are continuing to closely monitor river and lake levels in Otago, as more rain is expected in the western ranges.

Lake Wakatipu stabilised at 311.14m above sea level, 30cm above its ''active high level'', while Lake Wanaka reached 279.3m yesterday afternoon, just under its high level. Both lakes were expected to remain high for several days, the council said. The Clutha River at Balclutha peaked at 1630cumecs - 490cumecs above its first flood warning level - and started to recede yesterday, while the level of the Waitaki River looks set to remain above two and a-half times its normal flow for another week, after a metre of rain fell in the Waitaki catchment in the past two weeks.

Queenstown Lakes district harbourmaster Marty Black said the Clutha River posed the biggest risk to water-users in the Wanaka area.

''It's quite horrendous,'' he said.

''It's pushing in among trees - it's not good. The risk is certainly there. The river normally flows at 200 [cumecs] or less and it's at over 700.''

He warned people to stay off the river, particularly the inexperienced.

''With the lake rough, it's [Clutha] probably going to get quite a lot of use this weekend with tubers and kayakers and especially novices that don't know the risk.''

Few boat users ventured out on the lake yesterday, and Mr Black advised those planning to today to be ''extremely cautious'', given the debris washing into the lake from the rivers.

Lakeland Adventures, which runs cruises on Lake Wanaka, the Clutha River Jet and other water activities, was completely shut down, owner Simon Stewart said.

''We have taken our hire equipment from the building and now can't get under the Log Cabin as the waves have heaped the gravel up against the doors,'' Mr Stewart said.

''There is 400mm of water under the building and plenty of wood and debris. We will not hire a digger to clear it yet as we may get a repeat of the foul weather.''

Contact Energy hydro generation manager Graham Quinn said the Clyde and Roxburgh dams would probably spill water for several days.

It was fortunate the level of Lake Roxburgh had been lowered several days ago, to flush sediment downstream, as that reduced the impact of the flooding upstream after the recent heavy rain, he said.

Central Otago sub-area police commander Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk said Alexandra police were contacted late on Thursday night by friends of people freedom camping near the Clutha River at Earnscleugh. The friends had been unable to contact the campers and were concerned as the access to the makeshift camp site was flooded.

Snr Sgt Kerrisk said a jet-boat was launched and the campers, who had moved to higher ground, were found safe and well.

The Clutha district emerged relatively unscathed from the heavy rain and rising water levels.

The Clutha River at Balclutha peaked at 1630cumecs yesterday afternoon, and was receding.

Clutha District Council communications co-ordinator Jamie Shaw said the district seemed to have avoided flooding, despite the Clutha and Pomahaka running high.

The council removed the Tuapeka ferry from the river on Thursday, because of the high river flows, and would review the situation next week.

The Waitaki River normally runs between 200 and 400cumecs at this time of year, but rain and continued spills from Waitaki hydro dams meant it was running at 1100cumecs yesterday. River users were warned by Environment Canterbury that the flow could increase to 1300cumecs over the weekend and would remain at that level all next week.

ECan Timaru duty flood controller Chris Fauth said at this stage there had been no problems with overflow on the Waitaki.