No sign of relief in big dry

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Hot dry weather has hit North Otago hard and showers forecast this week are unlikely to provide much relief.

Light rain has been forecast for much of the week but it will do little to lift an Otago district-wide fire ban introduced on January 10 following persistent dry conditions over the past few months.

Otago Rural Fire Authority rural fire officer Eric Spittal, who looks after North Otago, said he did not expect the ban to be lifted in the near future as a lot more rain would be needed.

Despite these dry conditions, North Otago residents were behaving cautiously and there had been no major fires recently, he said.

Most people could be proud of themselves as they were using common sense and not lighting anything.

However, vigilance was still necessary as the fire danger increased every day without rain, Mr Spittal said.

“People just need to be so careful.”

MetService duty forecaster Richard Finnie said this weekend had been another dry one, with the Oamaru Airport reaching 29.1 degC on Friday, 21.8 degC on Saturday and a high of 21 degC expected yesterday.

Oamaru was due for brief showers last night and continuing throughout the week, with some heavy rain possible tonight, but no widespread rain, he said.

The past few months had been drier than the average of 50mm at this time of year with only 25.6mm in December and 38.2mm in December.

January is also tracking to below average with only 14.4mm so far, he said.

Hosing restrictions have now been put in place for Hampden and Moeraki but not in Oamaru.

Waitaki District Council water services and waste manager Martin Pacey said Oamaru’s water supplies were fine because it mostly came from the Waitaki River, which is not low.

“I don’t think you’ll see any restrictions in place. The Waitaki seems to be fine and at this stage have plenty of water,” he said.

However, other rivers around the district, including the Kakanui River and the Waianakarua River, continue to experience extremely low flows.

Otago Regional Council 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 being rationed or rostered.

“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.”

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, 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 this week with Kakanui irrigators.

The Kakanui River at Mill Dam and McCones flow sites were recording flows of 523 litres/second 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.

By Brayden Lindsay and Ruby Harfield