Drought long way from over despite rain

While patches of rain have fallen in some drought-hit regions, authorities are warning the drought is a long way from over and water shortages remain.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor recently classified the drought in the North Island, parts of the South Island and the Chathams as a large-scale adverse event as farmers and growers continued to struggle.

Northland, one of the hardest hit areas, is among area to have had some welcome rain.

However the Northland Regional Council said the region needed a lot more and would feel the effects of this serious drought for some time yet.

Water and waste manager Ali McHugh said the rain was little more than a drop in the bucket when it came to river, stream, aquifer and dam levels.

"The fact is, it's still parched out there in most of Taitokerau and the effects of this drought may continue well into next year if we continue to get below average rainfall.

"We're going to have to keep thinking about water conservation through winter to lessen the impact on the region as we head into next summer," said McHugh.

Rain could recharge rivers and refill water tanks quite quickly, but the levels were likely to spike and fall away again quite fast because of the limited and isolated rain the region was experiencing, she said.

"Some areas have had enough rain to at least make things look a bit better, such as green grass growing, but others such as the Far North have had only a few millimetres - certainly not enough to make even a visible difference."

Many coastal aquifers were reaching their lowest groundwater levels on record and it was expected the levels in some areas would keep on dropping during the next few months. 

Groundwater, rainfall and other freshwater levels remain at, or close to, record lows and water restrictions are still in place throughout the region, many of them at the highest possible level where water can be taken for essential use only.

Water shortage directions limiting water use to "reasonable household domestic needs and stock welfare needs" were still in place for the entire Awanui river catchment,16 coastal areas in the Whangārei district and seven coastal areas in the Far North district.

"In these areas with water shortage directions, the limits on water use apply to people taking water from bores and springs, streams and rivers and lakes. 

"We've put them in place to relieve the pressure on seriously low groundwater levels, which may take a very long time to recover."

If groundwater resources were not conserved, there was a risk that there would be water unsuitable for drinking, or even no water at all being available in some areas, particularly those with shallow aquifers.

"With every passing day, there's an increased risk of saltwater intrusion into groundwater systems, groundwater levels dropping below pump height, or bores 'drying up' unless people reduce their water use."

The council was continuing to monitor water use and would consider enforcement action against those who are found to be using water for non-essential purposes.