4 Mar 2020

Northland boosts drought water restrictions to avoid seawater contamination

6:22 pm on 4 March 2020

Water restrictions have been extended to communities along Northland's east coast whose water supplies are at risk of being contaminated, making it undrinkable.

Northland drought, Kaikohe area

Northland has been in drought since. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Northland Regional Council imposed the extended water restrictions to more than 20 coastal communities along Northland's eastern shores that draw water from bores, springs, streams, rivers and lakes.

It said it was imposing the restriction to conserve water because the coastal aquifers were so low, there was a risk they could be contaminated with seawater.

Water and waste manager Ali McHugh said it applied to drying bores, streams, rivers and lakes.

"Once the levels in an aquifer get a bit low in susceptible areas such as those coastal areas then saltwater can intrude into that aquifer and make the water taste salty and affect people's pumps," she said.

McHugh said it would take months of above average rainfall to raise the aquifers' levels, and the longer the drought went on, the worse the situation would become.

Some people are also ignoring a total fire ban in Northland despite the well-documented drought.

Fire and Emergency's regional manager Ron Devlin said there have been over 100 avoidable fires there since the ban began, some deliberately lit and others started by power tools and lawn mowers used at the hottest time of day.

"Don't light fires they are unnecessary. I can't think of any reason why anybody would need to go out there and light a fire."

On Sunday a scrub fire in Paihia caused a dozen homes to be evacuated.

Devlin said a small amount of rain today had not changed the drought conditions.

"The risk is not reduced, I reiterate that a few hours of a warm dry wind and all that dampness is gone."

MetService meteorologist Ciaran Doolin said an average 5mm of rain fell in scattered showers in Northland today, but it was shortlived.

He said MetService was monitoring a low pressure system moving over the Tasman but it was too early to say if there was a chance of rain for the region next week.

The drought conditions in Northland were classified as an adverse event for the primary sector last month, unlocking government funding for local farmers and growers.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor will be visiting Northland tomorrow to meet with locals and farming leaders affected by the drought.

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