The Army has joined the regional, multi-agency response to the Northland drought, which the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group said on Tuesday was taking a significant step up this week.
Local authorities, emergency services, Northland DHB, government departments, iwi, the Northland Rural Support Trust and private sector organisations were already contributing to the response, CDEM spokesman Graeme MacDonald said, the initial priorities including setting up emergency water supplies in case they were needed when town were under most pressure, namely Kaitaia, Kaikohe, and most recently, Rawene, with the possibility of others to follow.
"However, it's important to point out that all town water supplies are currently holding out, albeit being closely monitored and with high levels of restrictions in place," Mr MacDonald said.
The Far North District Council and iwi were also working to establish alternative water supplies in Kaitaia and Kaikohe.
"We are also going to be getting some assistance from the New Zealand Defence Force, which is sending up trucks, with water tanks installed, and a team of drivers," he added. (They arrived on Tuesday afternoon).
"They will be based in Kaitaia initially, and we're prioritising their work from an assessment across communities outside of town supplies and what they need. The Defence Force will be delivering water to community facilities (mainly halls) and marae, in case it is needed by the communities they serve. We may redeploy the Defence Force team after that.
"This is not taking over from the existing water carriers, and if you've already ordered a tanker load, don't cancel it in the hope of receiving emergency supplies."
In Kaitaia the Army is taking water from the town supply.
Meanwhile the Kaipara and Whangārei districts, while not facing the same challenges as the Far North, had areas being closely watched. Restrictions had recently been stepped up in Whangārei, and Kaipara was planning measures to supplement its town supplies.
Acknowledging the range of organisations contributing to the response, Mr MacDonald highlighted the role iwi were playing in "enabling" alternative water sources, and assistance of Fonterra and Fire and Emergency, in establishing emergency water supplies.
"Whangārei District Council, with two main dams, has provided reassurance to neighbouring districts," he said. "We've got the Northland Rural Support Trust, together with the Ministry for Primary Industries, doing a great job of taking care of farmers and growers."
Many private companies had worked longer hours, turned around deliveries faster, and donated goods, including some scarce items, to the response.
Recognising the financial impact the drought was having on some, both Winz and Inland Revenue were working with Northlanders to provide financial assistance, and other assistance was also available (see www.nrc.govt.nz/droughthelp).
Mr MacDonald said rainfall over the weekend had missed many locations in Northland, but would have provided a welcome addition to some rainwater tanks, and had lifted river levels around the region by between 10mm and 50mm. (The Northland Age recorded 3.6mm in Kaitaia).
"We're all scanning the horizon for rainfall, but small amounts, or a short duration, like we saw on Saturday, won't solve the problem," he said. He also reminded people to ask for help if they needed it.
"It may not be from an official agency but a friend or neighbour or family member — we're hearing a lot about communities working together to support each other. Working together will get us through, and in the meantime, the focus is still on saving water."