Water restrictions are now in force in every part of the Far North as a full-blown drought draws ever closer.
Hose bans were already in force in Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa-Moerewa and South Hokianga but as of yesterday restrictions were expanded to include the Kerikeri-Waipapa, Paihia-Waitangi-Ōpua and Ōkaihau water schemes.
That means every council water supply in the district is now subject to restrictions.
The situation is expected to become more acute over the next fortnight when two long weekends and major events — including the Bay of Islands Music Festival and Waitangi Day — bring thousands of extra visitors to the district.
■ Essential cooking, drinking and hygiene use only.
■ No areas are currently under level 4 restrictions.
■ No watering gardens or lawns with hoses, sprinklers or irrigation systems; no washing vehicles except with buckets; no washing buildings or paved areas; and no filling swimming pools.
■ Applies to Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa-Moerewa, Ōpononi-Ōmapere, Dargaville, Baylys Beach, Mangawhai, Ruawai.
■ No automatic or unattended hoses, sprinklers or irrigation systems. Hand-held hoses are allowed.
■ Applies to Kerikeri-Waipapa, Ōpua-Paihia-Waitangi, Ōkaihau, Rawene-Ōmanaia.
Where the situation is particularly dire, such as Kaitaia and Kaikohe, all watering of lawns and gardens except with buckets is illegal, as is washing outdoor areas and filling pools.
In areas such as Kerikeri and Paihia hand-held hoses are permitted but sprinklers and automatic irrigation systems are not.
With no serious rain on the horizon Far North District Council infrastructure manager Andy Finch is calling on all residents, including those on rainwater tanks, to cut water use by 25 per cent.
The reduction target was also aimed at rural residents because the bulk water carriers who topped up empty rainwater tanks sourced their water from council water treatment plants.
''If everyone reduces water consumption now, the imposition of more stringent restrictions can be delayed and we can avoid the worst-case scenario of an interruption to treated water supplies,'' Finch said.
Long-range weather forecasts offer little hope of a reprieve.
MetService forecaster Jake Cope said Northland's weather was expected to stay hotter and drier than usual until July, with only March offering a better chance of significant rain.
Kaitaia could face a double whammy because if the Awanui River, its main water source, drops too low, not only will the council be unable to take water for its treatment plant, it will be unable to discharge treated wastewater further downstream.
In a previous drought in 2017 the council had to pump outflow from its Kaitaia sewage plant onto farmland.
The Kaipara is also suffering with restrictions in Dargaville and Baylys Beach banning hose and sprinkler use.
Kaipara District Council spokesman Ben Hope said restrictions were also in place at Mangawhai and Ruawai, small schemes which supplied only the towns' main streets, while the other major town supply at Maungaturoto was currently in good shape but being monitored closely given forecast dry conditions.
Bulk water suppliers could also face limits so rural users were encouraged to conserve water and look for alternative supplies, he said.
The situation is better in the Whangārei District where council water services manager Andrew Venmore said rivers such as the Hātea, which usually supplied most of the city's water, had fallen to low levels but the Whau Valley Dam offered a back-up supply.
Wilson's Dam, which supplied Bream Bay, was also full.
However, council staff were keeping a close eye on water levels in the dams, which could fall quickly if the dry weather continued.
''We're not planning restrictions but we will ask people to use water sensibly and save water where possible. That will hopefully delay having to bring in restrictions.''
Last year was one of the driest on record in Northland with some areas — including Kaitaia, Ngunguru, Whangārei and Brynderwyn — recording their lowest-ever rainfall. In some cases those records stretched back to the 1940s.
WATER SAVING TIPS
■ Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth.
■ Install a water-saving shower head.
■ Switch to showers instead of baths and keep them short.
■ Install a dual-flush toilet or put a weight, such as a half-full soft drink bottle or a brick, in your cistern to reduce the amount of water used per flush.
■ Flush less often (''If it's brown flush it down, if it's yellow let it mellow'').
■ Put the plug in the sink when washing vegetables instead of running the tap.
■ Use the dishwasher for full loads only.
■ Mulch your garden with grass clippings or compost to cut water loss through evaporation.
■ Go to bewaterwise.org.nz for the latest on Northland water restrictions and more water-saving tips.