It's official - extremely low rain levels in the Far North have reached a critical state and a drought is on the cards if there is no serious rain in the next month.
The Northland Regional Council says another month of low rain levels will spell an official drought while the Far North District Council says water levels have become "critical".
To make matters worse, "adequate" rain is not predicted in the near future to parch the eight Far North water systems.
Water levels at Opononi and Rawene are causing the most concern for the FNDC, prompting the council to ask residents to achieve at least a 20 percent saving in water use. Kaikohe is also expected to follow suit.
Farmers in the midst of calving are facing the worst of the drought, as grass refuses to grow and streams run dry.
The FNDC has applied to the NRC for a water shortage order, which would allow the district council to pump more water from rivers and streams to prevent more water restrictions. It is the first time the council has had to ask the regional council for such an order.
The Northern Advocate visited farms and a public water supply dam around the Far North.
Dry, brown hills dominate the area while a dried-up weir in Kaikohe illustrates how bad the problem was.
While the Wairoro Stream weir was bone dry, the stream leading to it was 30cm below normal level.
NRC figures show drastically reduced rainfall levels right around the area, with areas such as Kerikeri having 263mm less rain than expected during the last two months.
River flows are also right down, flowing between seven percent and 35 percent of normal rates.
Kerikeri recorded just 44mm of rain from mid-February until April 18 - while expected rainfall for that period was 307mm.
Another area hit hard by low levels of rain is Kaitaia, that had just five millimetres of rain in March. Since mid-February until April 18, Kaitaia had a mere 25mm of rain when the expected rainfall was estimated to be 196mm.
The last time it rained more than 10mm over the Far North was at the beginning of February.
Meanwhile, Whangarei, in lower Northland, has also had very little rain, only 29mm falling from mid-February to April 18. The expected rainfall for that period was estimated at 249mm. However, the low rainfall is offset by the city having larger water supplies than those in the Far North.
NRC hydrology monitoring officer, Claire Coomber,said if the Far North did not have more rain within a month it would cause a drought. The last drought was in 1994 when adequate rain did not fall over Northland until about May, Ms Coomber said.
Last year heavy rain in January and February had helped ease a "very dry" March but problems this year were caused by the continuous low levels of rainfall from the start of the year. She said the Far North had been so dry because of weak El Nino weather conditions. But she expected normal rainfall to fall in May because El Nino conditions by then should have returned to normal.
FNDC utilities manager Peter Johnson has asked Far North residents to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent to prevent compulsory restrictions. The use of garden hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems was last week banned in Opononi/Omapere, Kaikohe and Rawene.
"Raw water sources are drying up quickly and with forecasters still advising adequate rain is unlikely in the immediate future, the situation is really becoming quite serious," Mr Johnson said.
"Community co-operation is the key. If people are really conservation conscious we may avoid further restrictions."