Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Drought Warning

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Canterbury has entered its third successive drought season with 86% of water bores affected and some wells at their lowest in 30 years.

Article Source: Farmers Weekly

Low or no flow in many of Canterbury’s streams and rivers could lead to early water restrictions this season, Environment Canterbury warns.

Canterbury has entered its third successive drought season with 86% of water bores affected and some wells at their lowest in 30 years.

Only significant snow and rain could make a difference now, ECan chief Executive Bill Bayfield said.

Weather forecasters reported one of the wimpiest winters in recent years and had already announced spring’s early arrival. Significant rain or a decent snow-dump were not on the radar.

NIWA figures showed the Canterbury Plains had received about 40% less than average rainfall since the start of the year with parts of north Canterbury up to 60% down.

“This is shaping up to be the third winter in a row with a very low recharge of Canterbury’s aquifers,” Bayfield said.

“While we’ve seen healthy rainfall in the alpine areas, the rain has not fallen on the plains where it’s needed most to recharge the aquifers. As a result groundwater levels have continued to drop.”

Surface water irrigation would be very limited with restrictions or bans on irrigation takes highly likely as rivers fell below minimum flow levels.

Some consents to take groundwater would have very poor reliability this summer.

“And we will not hesitate to enforce restrictions,” Bayfield said.

Farmers and ECan had moved towards an audited self-management collaborative approach to ensure water meter compliance was achieved.

Farmers had spent more than $50 million to implement new systems and technologies over the past four years.

“Our focus now is on cracking down on low-flow breaches during times of water restriction then dealing with breaches exceeding consented volumes,” Bayfield said.

Federated Farmers water spokesman Chris Allen urged farmers to take the warning seriously.

“We will not hesitate to enforce restrictions.”

Bill Bayfield


“We know many deep wells are struggling and shallow aquifers remain at record lows while surface water is quite patchy depending on where it’s fed from, so farmers do need to prioritise their use of water and heed the early heads-up from ECan,” Allen said.

He encouraged farmers to get involved in water user groups.

Leeston farmer and rural drainage committee chairman John Sunckell said surface water drains in Selwyn were in a very sad state.

“Groundwater levels are at their lowest, drains are dry or just bubbling along. There’s been no recharge in over two years.

“The environment will be under real pressure if we don’t get rain,” Sunckell said.

The commissioning of Central Plains Water (CPW) stage one had been a saving grace.

“In a draft report just out it’s looking likely CPW water could reduce groundwater take as much as 60-70%. If CPW wasn’t in play groundwater levels would be far more serious.

“It is all we can hang our hats on now – roll on stage two, it’s integral to the recharge in Selwyn,” Sunckell said.

Meanwhile, north Canterbury farmers struggling with the ongoing drought were at the end of their tether.

The only bonus of the dry was the good weather for lamb survival, farmer Dan Hodgen said.

“We have a wee bit of moisture holding so there’s a very small window of growth but it won’t be enough and if we don’t get rain from now on we will be deeply in the shit,” he said.

It was highly unlikely there would be a drought-breaker rain now so it was a matter of continuing to re-evaluate and make the best decisions possible.

“What we used to think were the hard decisions are the everyday decisions now and they are not getting any easier, we are just getting better at making them,” Hodgen said.