Dry summer increasingly likely, council warns

10 Oct 2019, 3:07 PM

Northland is inching closer to another potentially dry summer with new figures showing Mid and Far North areas have typically received a third to 40 percent less rain than usual over the past 12 months.

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) says more accurate summer weather forecasts will be available towards the end of November.

Council Group Manager Regulatory Services Colin Dall says at this point it’s simply too early to say with any certainty whether Northland is likely to face drought conditions in the coming months, or all the places this might happen.

However, he says collectively, the Mid and Far North areas had already experienced a large ‘rainfall deficit’ and – as the region headed into summer – things could change relatively quickly if there was little rain between now and Christmas.

“For instance, Whangarei recorded just 880mm of rain in the 12 months to Sept 30, 42% less than the typical 1500mm.  In Kaitaia, 925mm fell over the same period (32% less than the usual 1350mm) while in Kerikeri rainfall was down one-third, with 1140mm recorded (usually 1700mm).

Mr Dall says the problem had been made worse by consecutive dry periods leading up to winter this year.

“In the first six months of this year alone, Kerikeri and Whangarei were the driest they’d been in more than 80 years (since 1935 and 1937 respectively) and the situation hasn’t really improved much since then, with lower than average rainfall through winter itself.”

He says with such large deficits, it’s extremely unlikely that Northland collectively will head into summer with anything close to an average rainfall figures, making sensible prior planning crucial.

“We’re certainly already urging people not to waste water and to make sure they take sensible precautions to prepare for potentially dry conditions later, especially those relying on their own supply/with water tanks.”

Mr Dall says district councils operating public water supplies may also need to look at imposing water restrictions earlier than normal in some dry areas, including around Kaikohe and Dargaville. 

He says if necessary, the regional council can impose formal water rationing and/or water shortage directions as tools for managing water takes in dry catchments.

“Before that happened, our council would contact some of the more vulnerable water take consent holders/water users urging them to conserve water where possible.”

He says district councils taking water for public water supply and farmers irrigating pasture are among the biggest users among the several hundred people or organisations with resource consent to take water.

“These range from private individuals – taking relatively small amounts – through to some of those major users taking hundreds of thousands of litres daily.”

Mr Dall says there are also hundreds of other Northland users taking relatively small amounts of water who don’t need resource consent.

Regional river and rainfall data is available on the council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/riversandrain and water restrictions for public water supplies operated by Northland’s three district councils are available on www.bewaterwise.org.nz