29 Jan 2021

Extreme drought fears in Hawke's Bay after streams dramatically dry up

11:45 am on 29 January 2021

Streams in Hawke's Bay have dried up after being deep enough to swim just one week ago, stoking fears of another drought.

A fully-flowing Karewarewa stream pictured in October contrasts with the same stream pictured yesterday.

A fully-flowing Karewarewa stream pictured in October contrasts with the same stream pictured yesterday. Photo: Tom Kitchin

Authorities say conditions are starting to track close to last year's dry spell, which was described as a one-in-100-year event.

At the Karewarewa Stream in Bridge Pā, near Hastings, you can still hear the birds chirping, the cars driving by and the wind blowing.

But something that should be obvious is silent - there is no water flowing through.

The stream has disappeared and dried up in the last week.

It is a popular site for the local hapū, as its whānau carry out tohi rights to bless their tamariki.

Now the exposed riverbed reveals an old gumboot, a jandal and piles of plastic bottles and other rubbish.

The dry patch lies right beside Mangaroa Marae and its chairman Cordry Huata said the state of it was tragic.

Cordry Huata, chairman of Mangaroa Marae.

Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

"The water is the waitahi when you destroy the wairua. When you destroy the waitahi you destroy the wairua. It is our playground, it's our kids playground, it was our playground, it was our food source."

He said it had been happening more often due to changes in land use.

"The community has gone from a sheep farming area, which doesn't need a lot of water, as opposed to a winegrowing area, that takes a lot of water."

Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Tom Kay feared this was becoming more common.

"The Karewarewa stream's really a victim of the human activities in that catchment - taking a huge amount of water, diverting and engineering the stream, removal of planting and vegetation and pollution like rubbish and nitrogen and phosphorus and sediment, so I think it's really illustrative of a wider issue we have with freshwater in New Zealand still."

If there was no decent rain, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council said irrigation could be banned for a time, to help streams come back to life.

At a council meeting this week, its chief executive James Palmer feared there could be a repeat of last year's extreme drought if these conditions continued.

"Our low flow monitoring in most of our key lowland places is only a matter of days behind where it was this time last year which is to say we're tracking very very closely to the conditions we experienced early in the drought last year," he said.

He said this could lead to restrictions.

"If no further rain comes, we'll be finding ourselves in low flow situations with irrigation bans coming on reasonably imminently, it's probably no surprise to anyone that's been here for the last few weeks that we are in that situation and so many of our lowland streams will be at risk and spring-fed streams will be at risk of drying up."

MetService forecasted the odd shower for the region over the next few days, but this was thought unlikely to replenish the region's struggling streams.

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