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Big dry predicted to continue in February

31 Jan 2019, 3:18 PM

Ongoing hot, dry summer weather has been great for Northland’s holidaymakers and tourism sector, but with no significant rain on the horizon the increasingly parched conditions have prompted a local authority warning to conserve water.

The Northland Regional Council says east coast rain gauges from Doubtless Bay down to Whangarei had recorded just 5mm to 10mm rainfall for the month of January, while a gauge at Glenbervie had recorded only 6.5mm, the driest January since records began more than 70 years ago in 1947.

Colin Dall, the council’s Group Manager – Regulatory Services, says Bay of Islands catchments in particular now needed 250mm to 300mm of steady rain (equivalent to several months’ worth) to make up the deficit from some very dry months through winter and autumn last year.

“Unfortunately, not only has Northland already had significantly less summer rain than usual (January’s rainfall in an average summer is usually more like 70mm to 100mm) but the latest four-week forecast from MetService indicates we’re unlikely to receive much rain in February either.”

Mr Dall says given the dry conditions to date, the regional council is – as expected – already recording low flows in many of Northland’s rivers, particularly in and around the Bay of Islands. 

“The MetService’s forecast for the next month indicates that while we may see some modest rain towards the weekend of February 09 and 10, forecasters say it doesn’t look enough to ‘keep the wolf from the door’ for very long and there’s no significant rain expected.”

The tropics are also predicted to remain ‘quiet’ for the coming fortnight, but even though they should get more active from about mid-February, at this stage, tropical rainfall from any weather systems forming there is expected to stay away from New Zealand. 

Mr Dall says district councils had already begun imposing water restrictions in some parts of the region and the regional council had already contacted some of the more vulnerable water take consent holders/water users urging them to conserve water where possible if they were not already doing so.

“Unless there’s significant unexpected rain soon, we will very shortly be in a position where we will need to be looking at formal water rationing and/or water shortage directions as tools for managing water takes in dry catchments.”

He says the several hundred people or organisations with formal consents to take water in the region ranged from private individuals for relatively small amounts through to some major users taking hundreds of thousands of litres daily. 

“Some of our biggest users are district councils taking water for public water supply as well as farmers irrigating pasture.”

However, Mr Dall says there are also hundreds of other Northland users taking relatively small amounts of water who are not required to have resource consent, but who still need to save water where possible and be prepared for potential shortages.

Given the dry weather to date – and the prospect of more in February –  people generally would be wise to take whatever water conservation steps they could now to avoid possible tougher formal restrictions later.

“We’re urging everyone to ensure they’re not taking or using more water than they need to.  By making a little bit of an extra effort now, and if necessary planning ahead to secure tankered water supplies, they’ll potentially be helping spare themselves a much worse headache later.”

Mr Dall says regional river and rainfall data is available on the council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/riversandrain and the current water restrictions on public water supplies operated by Northland’s district councils can be found on the website www.bewaterwise.org.nz