Water restrictions as central Otago dam sinks to 25-year low

Extreme dryness is gripping many parts of the country, sparking water restrictions from the North all the way to the South.

A central Otago dam has sunk so much it's hit a 25-year low.

Dipping lower by the day - the water level at Falls Dam has now hit a 25-year low.

Falls Dam company chair and Ōmakau farmer Murray Heckler said: "It's just about empty - we're virtually out of storage."

A minimum level has been imposed to try and preserve some of the fish stocks, and farmers' irrigation is restricted to just 25 percent.

"If this carries on and we get down to virtually no water, no stock water and it goes on for another month, we'll have no feed. We have been there before and we managed, we'll just have to," Heckler said.

The last time farmers dealt with these conditions was in 1999. Conditions were even drier, and restrictions even tighter.

Ōmakau Irrigation general manager and Falls Dam operations manager  Roger Williams said 1999 was a really bad dry year.

"It was about the same level, just slightly above minimum flow and we'd been on 20 percent restrictions."

The dry conditions are compounding already low farm prices.

"You're selling lambs at lower weights, you've got to offload a bit so you can get rid of something. The dairy boys are probably dropping something as well in a year. When prices are low you've just got to battle on I guess," Heckler said.

Nearby towns including Ranfurly, Ophir, Ōmakau and Naseby are also restricted by a red water warning. There is also a total ban on sprinklers.

"It's just dry, it's like a good old central Otago summer when it gets dry it hasn't rained a lot," Williams said.

Falls Dam sits in the middle of a river, it won't ever run dry, but the storage could.

"Pray for rain, we just gotta keep battling on," Heckler said.

"We've offloaded some lambs, we will just keep offloading a bit if we have to, try and hang on to what we've got. Can't get rid of everything."

Right now farmers are managing, but the next few months will come down to Mother Nature.