Clutha catchment lake and flow situation, December 2019

Shotover River as it enters the Kawarau River around 12:30pm 03/12/2019. The rock “training line” constructed by ORC in 2010 is at bottom left.


ORC is monitoring lake levels and river flows, using MetService forecasts to model the predicted effects of rainfall.

For more detail of current status, refer to the news advisories below, or check current lake and river levels further down the page. 


Latest news updates

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #8 - Monday 9 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #7 - Sunday 8 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #6 - Saturday 7 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #5 - Friday 6 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #4 - Thursday 5 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #3 - Wednesday 4 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #2 - Tuesday 3 December 2019

ORC Heavy Rainfall update #1 - Sunday 1 December 2019


Current lake and river levels

Stay up to date with the current water levels and flows at sites all over Otago. Our water monitoring sites automatically update through the day and night.

Find all of our other water monitoring sites here.


Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka are expected to peak well below the levels reached during historic flooding in November 1999. Lake Wanaka is expected to reach its highest level since the 1999 floods.

The lakes and rivers are likely to be at elevated levels for some weeks, as water drains slowly from the mountains to the sea down the Clutha / Mata-Au catchment. This means that as more fronts arrive on the headwaters, the lake levels may continue to rise more quickly than they can recede.

The below graphs show how infrequent lake levels of this height are:

Lake Wakatipu

1999 peak - 312.8m above sea level

Lake Wanaka

1999 peak - 281.3m above sea level

ORC undertakes monitoring and analysis to forecast how lakes and rivers will respond to heavy rainfall, which enables other agencies like city and district councils, power companies, and (if necessary) civil defence to plan their responses. We have a 24/7 flood duty officer, and a wider flood management team for these situations.

ORC also ensures that pump stations and flood protection schemes are unobstructed and working as intended. ORC’s Lower Clutha flood scheme protects 9,300 hectares of land from inundation in high river flows.

Rainfall on the headwater gradually increases river flows downstream, all the way down to Balclutha. ORC’s flood protection schemes are expected to handle the extra water, but people operating in the vicinity of the river need to be aware of the possibility for the flow to increase rapidly, regardless of the local weather.

“If there’s too much flow, don’t go.”

Be aware that lakes and rivers that are in a state of flood will also be carrying debris – especially trees and branches swept down by floodwater. Debris won’t always be visible.

Heavy wind is exacerbating the effects of high water in the lakes, by causing waves and blowing more debris into the water.

The Clutha / Mata-Au is the largest catchment by area and river flow volume in New Zealand. It has a total area of around 21,000km2, and a mean annual flow of 575 cubic metres per second. Around 75% of the river flow is derived from the catchments which feed lakes Wanaka, Wakatipu and Hawea.

Approximately 6,000km2 of the catchment is the Clutha / Mata Au River upstream of Lake Dunstan.

The length of the catchment is around 230km in a rough line from the mountains of the Otago headwaters to the sea near Balclutha.

The below map shows ground levels near Lake Wanaka. These maps are generated using a surveying method called Light Detection and Radar (LIDAR).

As the lake level rises to these heights (measured in metres above sea level), the parts of Wanaka highlighted in the map may become inundated.

Both Lake Wakatipu and Lake Wanaka are expected to take around 19 days without rain to return to their average levels for this time of year. That 19 days starts once the lakes peak and are no longer rising, which is expected to be early next week.

This does not mean the lakes will be in flood for 19 days, but is an indicator that lake levels will be high for several weeks.

To return to normal levels, Lake Wanaka will need to drop more than 3m (to around 277.6m), and Lake Wakatipu a little over 1.2m (to around 310.2m). Coincidentally, given the different capacities and outflow rates of each lake, they will take roughly the same amount of time to decrease to normal levels.



Other resources


For the latest weather watches, warnings, and outlook


Otago Civil Defence and Emergency Management

For general information on what to do in a flood situation, and how to stay up to date with what's happening in your part of Otago


NZ Transport Agency

For roading information (including any closures) relating to state highways


Canterbury and Waitaki flood warnings from Environment Canterbury


If you are currently experiencing power issues, please call PowerNet on 0800 808 587.


Social media

For getting in contact with your local authorities and helpful agencies.



Image gallery

Please note the maps below are of ground levels. Some interpretation is required when assessing flooding because ponding and inundation will be influenced by local features such as buildings and fences. Note also that water levels around the margins of the lake, especially areas that are a long way from the water level recorder, may vary from those recorded because of wind and other effects.

Matukituki River - 9:09am - 5 December 2019

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9:11am - 5 December 2019

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Wanaka - 3:50pm - 4 December 2019

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Shotover entering the Kawarau - 8:30am - 03/12/2019

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Dart River - 8:30am - 03/12/2019

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Clutha River at Alexandra - 1:39pm - 03/12/2019

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Lower Clutha flood protection scheme map

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Glenorchy ground elevations

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Queenstown ground elevations

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Wanaka ground elevation

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Kingston ground elevation

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