Saturday, 16 January 2021


Record drought threatens water supply

Sunny skies and warm temperatures provided welcome relief for Coromandel residents battling cabin fever over the past six weeks. However, the absence of significant rainfall means the Peninsula now has drier conditions than anywhere else in the country, with most coastal areas still in drought.

Last week’s Hotspot Report from NIWA indicated that while drought conditions have lifted across much of the country, soil moisture levels in the Coromandel remain significantly lower than normal for the time of year. The forecast was for a potential further deterioration due to minimal rainfall in the seven days to 13 May.

“Very meagre rainfall amounts are likely across most of the North Island during the next week, with many locations likely to receive 5mm or less. Minimal rainfall in the next week will likely result in near-universal soil moisture decreases across the North Island,” NIWA warned.

Thames-Coromandel District Council eased water restrictions at the end of March due to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, with just two and half weeks before the onset of winter, it says there is still an urgent need to conserve water. In Hahei, Coromandel Town and Whitianga, hoses, sprinklers and garden irrigation systems can only be used on alternate days while Thames, Tairua, Onemana, Matarangi, Pauanui and Whangamata are under a conserve water notice, with residents asked to use water carefully to ensure supply continues.

Water was one of the top issues raised during consultation on the draft Annual Plan 2020/2021 with many submitters identifying it as a key priority and questioning why water infrastructure has not kept pace with development on the Coromandel. Council says, as well as increased demand over summer, the need to comply with consents on how much water it can take from streams and rivers when levels are low, is also a factor in the continued restrictions.

Auckland is also now introducing restrictions as the city’s water supply has failed to recover after a record 77 days consecutive days in drought.

NIWA meteorologist, Ben Noll, described 2019/20 drought conditions across New Zealand as the worst ever experienced for some regions. This includes Whitianga, which has just had its driest January to April on record. However, NIWA climate scientist, Petra Pearce, says this year’s drought is in line with regional climate modelling for northern and eastern areas of New Zealand, particularly the North Island, to become more drought-prone with ongoing climate change over this century. “Average rainfall is projected to decrease for those areas, particularly during spring and summer, which combined with increased temperatures is likely to result in more frequent and severe droughts,” she warns.


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