Environment Southland has assessed the low water situation in Southland as ‘serious’.
At a meeting yesterday (29/01/2018) director of science and information Graham Sevicke-Jones said the council was stepping up its response from “concerning” to “serious” because the sustained low rainfall was starting to have a wide-reaching impact on the region.
“With the river levels continuing to drop, we’re now at the stage where not only those in rural areas are feeling the bite of the low water levels, but people in all our towns and the city are also subject to council restrictions.”
The Oreti River was today measured at 2.73 m3 per second at Wallacetown, an extremely low flow that occurs on average only once every 15 years. The Mataura has fallen below 11 m3 per second at Gore, triggering a number of consent restrictions.
There has been little rainfall around the region in the past week, however the Metservice has issued a severe weather warning for Fiordland and a severe weather watch for Southland, with heavy rainfall forecast for the entire region for Wednesday evening and Thursday. Global weather models are predicting 80 to 165mm of rainfall in the headwaters and western areas, while coastal areas are expected to receive about 50 to 80mm.
“If that happens, it will change the situation very quickly for our rivers, and we would have around one to two weeks grace before rivers could again be at the current low flows,” Graham said.
As a response, Environment Southland is stepping up its monitoring and reporting, and will be working closely with the Southland Rural Support Trust, local councils and industry groups in the region.
“We’re talking to MPI today to get an indication on whether they will declare a medium-scale adverse event for Southland, which would open up more assistance to those affected by the dry conditions.”
As a next step, Environment Southland could issue a water shortage direction, which would put further restrictions on water takes and discharge consents throughout the region. This would however be considered very carefully, Graham said.
“If the current weather continues, we could be in a situation where the water flows will be so low that they will be seriously affecting domestic water supplies, stock water and firefighting reserves. We’re very aware that we need good support available for farmers and other businesses if there’s a need to put on further restrictions.”
“At this stage, we’re hoping for rain and are asking all Southlanders to follow their local council’s advice on what they can do to conserve water.”
If farmers have concerns about the situation, or need someone to talk to, the Rural Support Trust is offering completely free and confidential support and advice on 0800 787 254.
Consent holders are reminded that they will still be required to stay within the requirements of their consents. Those who think they may be about to breach their consent terms are encouraged to call Environment Southland early on 0800 76 88 45 to discuss their options.
Environment Southland will continue to monitor the situation closely.
More information about the current low water levels is available on Environment Southland’s website at www.es.govt.nz/low-water-levels, including graphs of aquifer levels, live river levels and situation updates.