Dry conditions have seen demand for water reaching an unprecedented level for the North Otago Irrigation Company in December.
The North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) has been delivering water from the Waitaki River to thousands of hectares of farmland in North Otago since 2006.
Chief executive Robyn Wells said they delivered 30% more water to farmers in December than any other month since the scheme began.
They also delivered 242% more than December 2013 because little irrigation was needed as a result of a higher amount of rainfall.
This increased water delivery had been beneficial to NOIC because it tested the infrastructure to a new level, she said.
In all, the infrastructure coped well with the extra demand and it helped the company “iron out” any issues that did arise.
There were a couple of places where the pressure was a bit low but these were highlighted and were being fixed, Mrs Wells said.
High usage, like this, would cost more for farmers in terms of additional variable charges (power costs) but the fixed charges, which are set each year, would not be increased.
“The variable charge is levied on a per m3 rate for each unit delivered and the total paid by a farmer each year will therefore increase if they take more water over the season as our pumps run longer and use power,” she said.
“This year it will be higher because of the dry conditions.
“The financial implications of not having any water are far greater than the variable cost for water which this year is averaging 0.07 per m3.”
The dry weather has caused problems for farmers around the country leading to a request to the Government by the Otago Regional Council last week to officially declare a drought.
However, last week Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced that while the Government would be monitoring the situation around the country, it would not be declaring a drought, because not all the criteria had been met at this stage.
For a medium-scale adverse event – or drought – to be declared, the lack of rainfall would need to have an economic, environment and social impact on farming businesses and the wider community.
Some light relief was felt around the district yesterday, with 5mm of rainfall between 7am and 8am and 12mm in the past few days.
MetService communications meteorologist John Law said more isolated showers could be expected later in the week with the odd heavy shower.
Federated Farmers North Otago president Richard Strowger said the sporadic rainfall would have done little to ease the situation and a couple of weeks of continous rainfall was needed.
“We need a really good soaking to turn it around.”
Some farmers would have fared better than others and it would certainly have helped some winter feed crops as well as irrigated land, he said.
Meanwhile, NOIC has been completing viability checks for each share application under the $53.2 million expansion plan.
However, Mrs Wells said, as a result of about 400 new applications which had come through since the deadline, they had extended the checks and designs until Friday, February 13.
“We’re getting a lot of extra applications and a lot of interest from this dry weather.
“We’re really pleased that we’re getting such interest.”
The initial design will be closed off at the end of next week and further applications might have extra costs to connect to the pipes that would be laid out under the design, she said.
The company expected to start ordering pipe soon after the viability process has been completed.
NOIC needed at least 2859 viable applications in order to get a $17 million loan from the Waitaki District Council to go towards the expansion which is part of stage two of the irrigation scheme.
Their share offer closed, with 4711 having been received, on December 19. Applications can still be made by contacting the NOIC office. These will not be under the Scheme Expansion Prospectus.
Water is planned to be available for use by September 1, 2016, in an expanded command area from Five Forks to north of Herbert.
By Ruby Harfield