Water restrictions could increase in dry spell

Horses gather in a dried-off paddock near Cromwell earlier this summer. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Horses gather in a dried-off paddock near Cromwell earlier this summer. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A forecast dry spell has the potential to result in further water restrictions throughout Otago.

Several areas were already experiencing water restrictions due to the low water levels in some rivers, caused by dry weather patterns.

The Otago Regional Council urged people in Otago to consider conserving water in the weeks ahead, as dry weather was not forecast to break soon.

Council science manager Tom Dyer said Niwa’s 35-day weather outlook suggested continued dry conditions, with the effects mostly felt in Central and North Otago.

"Whilst this doesn’t indicate an escalation in drought severity, the continued dry conditions are something to keep an eye on," he said.

The drought warning was set to mainly affect farmers who used rivers in Central and North Otago for irrigation.

Due to the dry weather seen this summer Mr Dyer said many rivers were bouncing in and out of low flow conditions.

"Staff will be monitoring water take data and ecological conditions to ensure river flows are kept to a sustainable level," he said.

In North Otago, the Shag-Waihemo River had been below its minimum flow since late January, which caused a stop to all water use for irrigation.

The Waianakarua River also dropped below its minimum flow in mid-February, which caused another stop in water use for irrigation.

Both of these rivers, however, were still being used for domestic supply and stock water.

Mr Dyer said the council would be making contact with Shag-Waihemo River users later this week to record current livestock numbers and water demand, because as dry conditions continued, further restrictions would be required.

In Central Otago, the Manuherikia and Taieri Rivers were low, but were still being used for irrigation, with caution, Mr Dyer said.

Farmers using these rivers for irrigation had been attempting to manage river flows by combining water storage and abiding by restorations.

"For the most part, water users compliance with the rules for their waterway had been outstanding so far."

The council acknowledged that for some communities, it would be a difficult time, as people would be starting to feel the effects of the dry weather leading into autumn.

"We’re encouraging farmers to make plans and take action early with regards to stock feed and to reach out early for support and advice."

By Olivia Judd