16 Jan 2015

Dry spell 'getting pretty serious'

6:49 pm on 16 January 2015

Farmers in Otago and Canterbury continue to be plagued by dry weather while New Plymouth is to introduce water restrictions from midnight tomorrow.

Dry pasture grassland in the South Island, New Zealand.

Dry pasture grassland in the South Island, New Zealand. Photo: 123rf

The South Island's east coast is battling a drought that started with a dry spring and is expected to continue for the next few months.

NIWA is predicting normal or less than normal rainfall until March while temperatures will be usual or higher for Canterbury and Otago.

Health warnings are being put up at some popular swimming spots in Canterbury while some farmers are selling stock early.

Water limits in New Plymouth and Akaroa

In the North Island, New Plymouth has introduced restrictions as it struggles to meet water demand and maintain enough for fire-fighting supply and storage.

New Plymouth council manager of water and wastes Mark Hall said demand for water had increased by 40 percent across the district in the last two weeks and local reservoirs were running low.

He said substantial rain and a significant drop in water use were needed to ensure a sustainable water supply could be maintained.

Under the restrictions, hand-held hoses can be used at odd-numbered houses on odd-numbered days and at even-numbered houses on even-numbered days.

The use of sprinklers and unattended hoses has been banned.

New Plymouth

New Plymouth Photo: 123rf

Sheep graze in the highlands of the South Island of New Zealand.

Sheep graze in the highlands of the South Island of New Zealand. Photo: 123rf

In the South Island, Akaroa is also being urged to conserve its water as supply levels drop.

The Banks Peninsula town is the latest to feel the pinch in the long dry spell on the east coast.

A sample of the potentially toxic algae.

Sample of potentially toxic algae (file photo) Photo: OTAGO REGIONAL COUNCIL

Christchurch City Council water and waste unit manager Tim Joyce said Akaroa stream flows were low and falling, with dry weather likely to continue for the next few months.

Mr Joyce said people should turn the tap off when brushing their teeth, take shorter showers and, where possible, water the garden at cooler times of the day.

He said council staff were doing a letterbox drop around the area today to encourage water efficiency.

Health warnings were also being put up at some popular swimming spots in Canterbury due to the hot dry weather.

Canterbury Regional Council surface water science manager Tim Davie said there was cyanobacteria at several popular swimming spots.

He said warnings were in place at 11 sites - eight of which were in South Canterbury.

The Canterbury District Health Board said exposure could cause rashes, nausea, stomach cramps, and tingling and numbness around the mouth and fingertips.

Farmers face early stock sell-off

Otago Regional Council chief executive Peter Bodeker said river catchments were at or below their minimum flow levels, and irrigation water was not available, or was being rationed or rostered.

Yesterday, Mr Bodeker said, all farmers throughout the Taieri catchment voluntarily stopped irrigating for 24 hours, which allowed council staff to measure how much of the river's water could be rationed.

North Canterbury farmer David Meares said he was hopeful he would not have to sell any more of his stock early, after already having sold 1400 lambs.

Mr Meares told Summer Report he would not usually sell off such a large quantity of stock so early but the lean spring season signalled it was a smart option.

"The sale yards were pretty full and a lot of lambs are of course not sold through the sale yards - so, in general, most farmers are making moves now, I think. It's getting pretty serious."

Mr Meares said farmers who have been relying on irrigation systems amid tough water restrictions must be growing more and more anxious.

Canterbury-based dairy company Synlait Milk said it was largely unscathed by the drought due to reliable irrigation supplies.

Synlait Milk managing director John Penno said the company was not seeing a drop in milk production, which remained at budgeted levels.

Mr Penno said most of the company's suppliers had reliable irrigation water supplies.

He said it was tough for their farmers but most of them were positive, believing the weather was not unusual and expecting little to no effect on production.

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