2 Feb 2015

Otago not dry enough for Govt action

5:49 am on 2 February 2015

The Primary Industries Minister has indicated the Government is unlikely to agree immediately to the Otago Regional Council's request for a state of drought to be declared in the region.

Dry pasture grassland in the South Island, New Zealand.

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

The council made the request for a formal declaration on Friday, saying conditions in central and north Otago had become worse than they were during the 1999 drought.

However, the minister's office said the consensus among ministry and rural professionals was that a medium scale classification and recovery measures would not be required at this stage.

It said, however, if the dry weather conditions were to continue through February, a medium scale classification would be declared for parts of Otago and Canterbury.

In the meantime, irrigation restrictions and in some cases a full ban have now been imposed on most Otago rivers.

Water storage schemes in south Canterbury are running dry as the region edges closer to serious drought.

While rain brought relief to many dry parts of the country over the weekend, Canterbury missed out.

The 250 farmers taking irrigation water from the Opuha dam have been restricted to a 50 percent supply for much of the past month.

Opuha Dam which provides water to 250 South Canterbury farms will have to be turned off in a month if dry conditions continue.

The Opuha dam provides water to 250 farms in south Canterbury. Photo: Supplied

They have now been warned that without significant rain they will lose all access to water from the scheme on 20 February.

Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said the water level in the dam had never been as low at this time of year.

"There's only one other time that we've been this low in the history of the dam and that was back in 2001, but at that time we reached these low levels at the end of the season, so the storage had done its job," he said.

"We'd delivered to the farmers, the river had been maintained through that key autumn period and it had used up the storage.

"But this time, we've still got quite a way of the season to go and we're looking at the bottom of the lake.

Farmers left to ration

The Rangitata South Irrigation Scheme, which collects water from the Rangitata River when its flow exceeds 110 cubic metres per second, has not been able to take any water for most of January.

Scheme chair Ian Morten said there was no water left in the large storage ponds to be distributed to farmers' smaller ponds, which hold up to ten days worth of water.

He said the scheme had done well, but with no water to distribute farmers would have to strategically ration their water themselves.

Mr Morten, who owns a cropping farm in Orari, said the creeks on his property dried up in November, when they normally last until February or March.

He said the conditions were severely dry and farmers were struggling.

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