Recent rain and cooler temperatures have eased immediate concerns about Bay of Plenty’s low stream flow levels, but Bay of Plenty Regional Council staff are warning water users to plan ahead now for next summer.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Water Shortage Event Manager Steve Pickles said that the region has had an exceptionally dry summer and autumn this year that caused local waterways to drop to record low levels.
"That posed a risk to waterway health, so we’ve kept a really close eye on stream flow levels since March; using our real-time telemetry data, along with regular site visits to high-risk areas such as Waimapu and Tuapiro Streams as COVID-19 restrictions allowed.
"We came very close to needing extra water restrictions for the western Bay of Plenty in April through to mid-May. Fortunately the weather cooled and brought enough rain to restore base flows just in time,” said Mr Pickles.
The drought as classified by the Minister of Agriculture is still in place for the Bay of Plenty, and Mr Pickles said he's aware that pastoral farmers and lifestyle block owners in some parts of the region are still facing a serious feed gap.
"But they can now take water restrictions off their worry list, for the winter at least,” he said.
The Rural Support Trust (ph 0800 787 524) and Ministry for Primary Industries are continuing to offer assistance to people and businesses impacted by the drought.
Mr Pickles said that this year’s unusual weather pattern is a sign of more to come, so it’s important that local farmers, growers and industry networks consider preparation for next summer as part of their recovery efforts.
“A close look at our data suggests that the reduced stream flows we saw this year are the cumulative result of low rainfall since the start of 2019, compounded by the warmer temperatures experienced over the recent summer period. NIWA are forecasting another dry winter this year, which may leave us going into our next summer on the back foot with stream flows that are lower than normal.
“Regional Council has a duty to protect the life-supporting capacity and holistic health of a waterway through our water management work. Climate change is predicted to bring increasingly hotter, drier summers to our region; that could result in permanently reduced average flows and less water availability for private or commercial use in the years to come.
“It will always be important to maintain supply for domestic and stock water use. But if stream flows get too low due to dry conditions in future, we may have to impose new restrictions on less critical water uses, so that we can sustain waterway health.
“Local businesses that rely on water, should take steps as soon as possible to increase their business resilience and mitigate the risk of future water shortages. There’s a range of options that they can consider, including the use of water storage systems, precision irrigation technology, allocation sharing, and efficiency measures such as system maintenance and reduced pumping rates,” Mr Pickles said.
Mr Pickles also said that both the horticultural and agricultural industries have some great in-house resources and expertise around sustainable water management, that water users can access to help them plan ahead.
“In some instances, such as for new bores, water takes or storage pond development, resource consents will be needed and our Regional Council consents team are happy to provide advice on that,” he said.
Regional Council’s consents team can be contacted by phone 0800 884 881 extn. 9090 or email to Consents.Queries@boprc.govt.nz. Water users can also find out more about Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s work to protect waterways during dry weather, and access links to water efficiency tips at www.boprc.govt.nz/watershortage.