Managing water availability during low flows

Otago has been experiencing drier than normal conditions recently, and this is expected to continue over summer.

Stay up to date with live river flow levels and alerts on Water Info

If you see extreme low flows or fish in distress due to lack of water, please report this to our Pollution Hotline on 0800 800 033 or complete the online form below.

How does ORC manage low river flows?

We are responsible for making sure Otago’s waterways are managed sustainably. We provide live water flow information so you can monitor current river levels and aquifers around the region.

We also make sure those who have water takes follow their consent conditions.

Our low flow management team is guided by the following principles:

  1. We will actively monitor key waterways and aquifers (including minimum flow sites, scheduled aquifer levels, residual flows and targeted low flow gauging)
  2. We will inform the community of current flow/level information to enable irrigators to collectively manage the resource
  3. We will manage water use to protect the significant ecological values of Otago’s waterways.
  4. We will carefully consider the full suite of regulatory tools available to protect significant ecological values of Otago’s waterways.
  5. We will not impose flow/level standards stricter than existing minimum and residual flows and aquifer levels (e.g. ‘bounce back’ provisions)
  6. Permitted irrigation can commence when flows are at or above relevant minimum flow, residual flow or aquifer levels
  7. Stored water is not subject to water restrictions beyond any normal consent conditions. 

Water shortage directions will be issued if necessary to ensure that our principles are met.


How can you help manage water during low flows?

Make sure you know the conditions of your water consent, and actively monitor your take.

We encourage all water takers to work together and share the available water, e.g. through rostering. This will help to sustain the river and aquifer levels for longer, which will protect the river ecology.

If you’re not part of a water allocation committee, have a chat with your neighbours as it’s possible there is one in your area.

ORC staffer Nineva Vaitupu works in the Taieri River at Outram during the 2014-15 summer low flow event.


What is a Water Shortage Direction?

Water shortage directions are issued when there is a serious shortage of water and it needs to be conserved. They can be for specific waterways or areas, and can last up to 14 days. ORC can revoke them if river and/or aquifer levels rise again (e.g. due to rainfall or a successful rain dance).

Water shortage directions are issued under the Resource Management Act.


Toxic algae (cyanobacteria)

Algal blooms can occur during warm weather and low river flows, even in waterways with good water quality. Most algal blooms aren’t a concern, apart from cyanobacteria, which can cause health issues in humans and can be deadly for dogs. Find out more here.


Useful links

Low flows observation form

Use this form below to report adverse environmental events involving freshwater plants and animals during extra-dry conditions.

If the situation needs immediate attention please call ORC’s Pollution Hotline on 0800 800 033 as soon as possible so your observations can be followed up without delay. Otherwise, complete the online form below.

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