Far North drought brings Kaitaia water restrictions

By Daniel Collins 08/03/2010

The Far North District Council has imposed water restrictions in Kaitaia and Opononi/Omapere, as the drought in the Far North intensifies and looks set to continue into April. While residents have reduced water consumption, total Kaitaia water use is still about 400 cubic metres (15%) per day too high. What was previously a 20% voluntary reduction has become mandatory, though David Penny, of the FNDC, believes a 50% is feasible:

“People in the Far North are of pioneering stock. They are known for pulling together when times are tough, and that’s what we’re asking for now. Please work with us to help your communities get through this drought.”

Analysis of rainfall data* collected since 1985 puts the current drought at least on par with those of 1986/87 and 1990/92, but could very well be worse. The following data show rainfall for the three summer months (DJF) since 1985/86 at the Kaitaia Observatory. While summer rainfall usually totals between 200-300 mm, this summer it dropped below 100 mm.


The drought has already led to failed crops, likely prompting – as it did in the previous two droughts – a drive for more water storage for irrigation.

Any thoughts on more storage, however, should not just consider the here-and-now but also the probable future: on average Northland is expected to get warmer and dryer in the coming decades. Greater storage capacity would be required for the same reliability, provided water use remained the same.

Sustained low rainfall, like tsunamis, are natural hazards. They are inevitable, though their frequency and magnitude can change. What turns them into a disaster – great or small – is the vulnerability and resilience of the community. David Penny’s call on the Far North’s “pioneering” attitude is a call to improve their vulnerability and resilience. Any future calls for greater water storage can be couched the same way, though they have often actually reduced resilience because of greater dependence.

*These data are available free from NIWA’s National Climate Database.

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