Recent heavy rain has eased the drought in the Waihou River area – but more problems are likely before the summer is over.
Environment Waikato’s Environment Committee heard this week that the Waihou had reached a ten year low flow level after continued dry weather since November last year. Over the past five years, water was increasingly being used by the dairy industry to supplement production with pasture irrigation on the Hauraki Plains.
The river was at its second lowest flow in 40 years after a dramatic drop off following the New Year holiday. Rainfall had been 40 percent lower than normal in October, 25 percent lower in November and December and 60 percent lower in January.
Resource Officer Rob Dragten said there were now 73 water takes on the Waihou, taking 137,000 cubic metres per day. District Council takes accounted for 34 percent and irrigation 49 percent while the dairy factory was also a user and there were many water users who did not require consents.
When a ban was placed on water from the Waihou on January 25, some farmers had expressed considerable concern about the hardship that would be caused and losses of up to $100,000 if they could not irrigate. While a few irrigators did not comply with the water ban until visited by council staff, most irrigators were complying, and Council staff appreciated their co-operation.
Staff met with farmers on February 7 to discuss the issues and the ban was able to be lifted on February 9. However since then water levels have begun to fall again and without regular rain river flows are likely to drop further.
Managing the low flows was time consuming and expensive and decision making was made more difficult because of a lack of clear policy.
Cr Neil Clarke said water users had gone to considerable expense and water was important to their crops as well as the community water supplies. People in the area were concerned that the same situation was likely to occur again quite soon.
Chairperson Jenni Vernon said Environment Waikato had responsibility to manage low water levels but it was up to farmers to take responsibility for their choice of water supply as well.
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