The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is extending its Water Shortage Direction to stop all water takes from the Taieri River and its tributaries from midday Wednesday 4 February.
ORC chief executive Peter Bodeker said the drought conditions were now worse than those of the severe drought of 1999. The current predictions for the dry to continue through February meant the council now had no option other than to restrict all takes for irrigation to protect the river ecosystem as much as possible.
“The Taieri has been running below its minimum flow at Waipiata and Tiroiti for several days, despite the superb rationing and rostering of water organised by local irrigators,” Mr Bodeker said.
“As a regional council, our responsibility is to do what we can to protect the long-term viability of the river for all users. The drought-affected flows in the river must now be given over to nature to sustain the ecosystems,” Mr Bodeker said.
“We understand the dry conditions are causing severe hardship for many farmers and we have no desire to exacerbate or prolong this. However, Council must take a long-term view to manage this precious resource and ensure the river system stays intact.”
More river gauging devices have been installed and staff were keeping an hourly watch on flow levels and weather conditions.
“This gives us the flexibility to quickly revise the Water Shortage Direction and release water for irrigation once the flows return to sustainable levels,” Mr Bodeker said.
“Having said that, all landholders relying on water takes should be aware that substantial rainfall is needed over several days to restore the Taieri, and other rivers that are low, to normal flows above the minimum flow.”
The ground was so dry that light rain was likely to have minimal impact on river levels. If light rainfall is followed by warm weather, a good deal of the moisture is absorbed on the surface or evaporates before it can get to the river.
“Such desperate conditions bring the best and the worst out of people,” Mr Bodeker said.
“We have found the majority of farmers are doing the right thing and showing great environmental stewardship, but there have been a small number who are behaving irresponsibly and taking water when they shouldn’t be.”
ORC compliance staff will continue to be in the field to ensure everyone complies with the Direction, Mr Bodeker said.
Concern is also growing about low flows in the Lindis, Cardrona, and Manuherikia rivers as well as South Otago rivers. Council staff were reviewing flows and consents in these areas.
Mr Bodeker said if conditions continued to deteriorate, some sort form of Water Shortage Direction was likely to be issued in coming weeks to manage the water in the Central Otago catchments.
“We’ll continue to speak regularly with affected farmers as we work with them through these difficult and distressing times.”
Meetings are planned to explain the situation to farmers in the Taieri next Monday 2 February at Kyeburn Hall (3pm), Ranfurly Rugby Club (5pm), and Middlemarch (7.30pm).
Council hydrologists, fishery, and water quality scientists are continuing to survey affected catchments to record the effects of the drought on native fish, trout, and water quality.
Flows in rivers north of Dunedin are also low. All water takes from the Shag River have ceased. The Kakanui flow is being managed by the local irrigation group and is holding steady at or slightly above the minimum flow.
Up-to-date information is available from the ORC website at: http://water.orc.govt.nz or from the water info line on 0800 426 463.
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For more information please contact
Ph 0274 998 328