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Otago rivers still critically low

Media Release - 16 January 2015

Many Otago rivers continue to experience extremely low flows due to dry weather, with no significant relief in sight.

ORC chief executive Peter Bodeker said most Otago river catchments were at or below their minimum flow levels, and water for irrigation was either no longer available or was being rationed or rostered. Of the rivers where minimum flows had not been reached, most were at low flow levels.

“Farmers throughout these dry areas are making substantial sacrifices to ensure the rivers are sustained. They are working co-operatively to carefully manage and ration what little water is available, and in some areas irrigation has stopped altogether,” Mr Bodeker said.

“Yesterday, all farmers throughout the Taieri catchment voluntarily agreed to stop irrigation for 24 hours until noon today (Friday). This has enabled ORC staff to accurately measure how much water in the river can be rationed,” he said.

“This commendable action is a first for Otago farmers.  It demonstrates how seriously they are taking the situation and underlines their willingness to think and act collectively on the best options for rationing water over the coming weeks should no rain eventuate,” Mr Bodeker said.

Many farmers had already taken the difficult and costly but necessary steps to adapt their land management and reduce stock numbers to deal with the conditions.

Based on current information, the dry weather could potentially continue through to the end of February. However, the after-effects of this are likely to go on for several months and reduce winter feed availability.

“We have met farmers in the Upper Taieri, Strath Taieri, and Manuherikia catchments to discuss future water management options, and our staff are in contact with those in other areas,” Mr Bodeker said.

“I will also be contacting the Dunedin City Council as their water takes from Deep Stream affect the flows in the lower Taieri. If the dry conditions continue the city may have to consider some restriction on water use in Dunedin,” he said.

A meeting to brief representatives of Fish and Game, iwi, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and Federated Farmers has been held and a meeting will be held next week with Kakanui irrigators.

“We have had reports of a small number of people - mostly farmers holding deemed permits - who have been disadvantaging others in their community by continually taking water. This is disappointing given that it directly affects those responsible neighbours who have complied with water rostering requirements,” Mr Bodeker said.

Detailed river gauging and flow analysis which is nearly completed this week will pinpoint any farms where excessive amounts of water continue to be taken.

ORC compliance staff would be visiting these farmers, Mr Bodeker said.

“An option open to us is to use the wide powers we have under the Resource Management Act to order these irrigators to stop taking this water, but we would prefer to take a more equitable approach and spread the burden so that no one farm is penalised at the expense of another. It is inevitable that we will issue these water shortage directions if rain does not arrive soon.”

The council would continue to work closely with farmers to ensure that any such directions to further restrict irrigation are well considered, and have the least possible impact on their livelihood, Mr Bodeker said.

This morning the Shag River was at 101 l/sec at Craig Road, still below its minimum flow of 150 litres/second (l/sec). All irrigation has stopped.

The Kakanui River at Mill Dam and McCones flow sites were recording flows of 523 l/sec and 391 l/sec respectively. The minimum flow for both these sites is 250 l/sec.

Water takes have ceased from the Waianakarua River, which is running low at 318 l/sec.

The Taieri River at Sutton is below its minimum flow of 1,250 l/sec, and is currently running at 1096 l/sec. At Waipiata the river is below its minimum flow level of 1,000 l/sec, and is running at 993 l/sec, and at Tiroiti the river is just below the minimum flow of 1,100 l/sec, reading 1042 l/sec. At Outram it is 2,271 l/sec, below the minimum flow level of 2,500 l/sec.

The dry is also starting to affect South Otago with the Pomahaka at Burkes Ford running at 3,400 l/sec - well below its median flow of 15,480 l/sec.

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.

For more information please contact

Peter Bodeker
Chief executive
ORC
Ph 0274 998 328

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