28 Nov 2010

Fear of another drought in north

8:00 am on 28 November 2010

Three months of dry weather have brought fears of another summer drought in Northland.

Last summer's drought cost the region $300 million in lost primary production - and councils were forced to ration water.

But this time, they say, they will be better prepared.

The water level in Whangarei's Whau Valley dam is 2% higher than normal - but that's because the council has been drawing heavily on other sources to conserve its storage.

There's been hardly any rain in the north for three months. So far this month, Whangarei has had 17mm, Kaitaia 20mm and Ruawai 7mm.

Dargaville kumara grower Andre de Bruin says he has been watering his young crop constantly since day one. He says cracks that appeared in his soil last summer - and never quite closed over winter - are reopening.

Kaitaia dam should be usable

Determined not to be caught short again, Far North District Council has applied for resource consent to tap into an aquifer as a backup to the Awanui River for Kaitaia's supply. But it won't be granted in time for summer.

However, the Kaitaia dam - which could not be used last year because of an algal bloom - should be usable. Infrastructure manager Dave Penny says an ultrasonic device has been installed to counter the algae.

The council is also embarking early on a water conservation campaign. The aim is to get everyone to behave as if they are on tank supply.

Rain forecast as summer progresses

Elsewhere, Whangarei District Council is installing a bigger intake pipe for the water it draws from the Hatea River.

Water services manager Andrew Venmore says the project was on the 10-year forward list but was brought forward after dam levels dropped to 40% last year.

No significant rain is forecast for the next week or so, but MetService says a developing La Nina weather pattern is expected to bring rain as summer progresses.

Although there could be dry spells, the agency says another drought is most unlikely.