Thursday, April 25, 2024

Marlborough officials to meet on drought call

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Stock water is short and rivers increasingly are under pressure.
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By Neal Wallace and Annette Scott

The Marlborough Drought Committee will meet with government officials on Wednesday to consider if the region should be declared an adverse event due to drought conditions.

Marlborough Federated Farmers president Evan White said farmers are continuing to feed out supplements and further reduce stock while dairy farmers are considering once-a-day milking.

White said he hopes an adverse event will be declared, given the spreading dry conditions in Nelson, North Canterbury and parts of Otago and South Canterbury.

Stock water is short in Marlborough and rivers are under pressure – but White said while irrigation is still allowed, wind and heat mean evapotranspiration exceeds what is being applied.

“I’ve been irrigating about 5mm a day but in the last couple of days with wind and heat, I’ve been losing 7mm to 8mm a day.”

The federation’s Wairarapa president, David Hayes, said after several wet summers, the province is experiencing a more typical dry summer, albeit conditions have dried rapidly in southern and eastern parts of the province.

A second early weaner calf sale is being held in the province this week.

North Otago and the Hakataramea Valley in South Canterbury are also extremely dry.

The North Otago Federated Farmers president Myfanwy Alexander said conditions in the Hakataramea Valley are described as the driest since the 1980s.

Alexander said irrigation schemes are struggling to keep pace with demand and drying from constant wind.

A lack of significant rain since November last year has left Lake Opuha in South Canterbury with enough water for about one week’s irrigation.

Opuha Water Ltd (OWL) shareholders have been on 50% restrictions but a notice to shareholders this week has alerted them to the impending cessation of irrigation.

OWL chief executive Bjorn Triplow said without significant rain the lake

has reached a “strikingly low” level, down to about 10% of its capacity.

Once the water level dropped below 375 metres, OWL and its shareholders must revert to formal consented restrictions and when the lake drops to 373m all irrigation will cease.

“We anticipate that this lake level will be reached in about a week’s time.”

It is almost 10 years since the lake had dropped to Monday’s level, when the lake level plummeted to within 50mm of zero in the summer of 2014-15.

The situation is to be re-evaluated next Monday.

Falls Dam in Central Otago, which feeds the Manuherikia River and provides irrigation to the surrounding farms, orchards and vineyards, has fallen to its lowest level in 25 years.

Weather Watch chief forecaster Philip Duncan cannot see an easing in the dry conditions for the next few weeks as traditional El Niño patterns dominate.

“High pressure systems will control the weather for the next week or two.

“Places that are dry will get drier in the next week or two.”

Cold, wet fronts are not venturing north beyond Southland and Fiordland.

He said high pressure systems dominate the eastern half of Australia and all of NZ.

“Until we get high pressure zones breaking up in the Tasman, that’s when we will get proper rain.”

While long-range weather modelling has its shortcomings, Duncan said, it shows El Niño could start fading in April-May.

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