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Published: 2008-01-16 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is considering imposing restrictions on using surface water from the Waihou River catchment, including the Ohinemuri River, to irrigate agricultural land.

This summer’s hot, dry weather means water flow in the Waihou and the Ohinemuri is at or near record lows, raising concerns about town water supplies. During November and December, the Waihou catchment had only half its average rainfall. The Waihou’s flow at Te Aroha is currently the lowest recorded in the month of January since records began in 1965.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and we will liase with the Hauraki and Matamata-Piako local councils over them having enough water to meet people’s daily needs while the dry spell continues,” said Environment Waikato senior water resource officer Cameron King.

“Restricting the taking of surface water for farm irrigation is one tool we have available. We may need to issue a water shortage direction under section 329 of the Resource Management Act to restrict or suspend the amount of water irrigators can take under existing resource consents.

“Given the seriousness of the current situation, we are considering at what point we will issue a water shortage direction if there is no significant rainfall in the near future.

“We also feel it is important to give irrigators a warning about the likelihood of restrictions. And we want to let irrigators and others in the area know that if, they are able to voluntarily restrict water use now, it may potentially delay the need for a formal water shortage direction.

“We will be contacting irrigators about the situation.”

Mr King said that if domestic and municipal water shortages do eventuate, local councils will have responsibility for managing the situation in their areas.

“Environment Waikato’s role is looking at what it can do under its powers to help prevent such a situation developing.”

Waikato Federated Farmers president Stew Wadey said he understood Environment Waikato was considering restrictions on irrigating as a last resort. “I encourage farmers to do all they can to voluntarily reduce water use as we work through this critical period. I urge them to consider farm management options if restrictions are applied.”

Mr King said surface water flows in the south Coromandel and Waipa areas were also being watched closely as they had also begun to drop due to the prolonged dry weather.