Ali McHugh Northland Regional Council last week imposed water shortage directions over catchments in 16 coastal areas in the Whangārei district and seven in the Far North, limiting water use to essential domestic and farm stock needs.

The restrictions, which apply to water taken from bores, springs, streams, rivers and lakes, will remain in effect for 14 days, but will be extended if necessary. A separate water shortage direction for the entire Awanui catchment has been extended for another 14 days, with a new expiry date March 16.

The council's water and waste manager Ali McHugh said many coastal aquifers were reaching their lowest groundwater levels on record, and the longer the drought went on, the worse the situation would become.

She expected coastal groundwater levels to drop significantly, below pump height, in the next few months, increasing the risk of saltwater intrusion or bores 'drying up.'

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"If we don't conserve groundwater resources now there's a real risk that there will be water unsuitable for drinking, or even no water at all being available in some areas, particularly those with shallow aquifers," she said.

If that happened, people should contact the NRC for further advice.

"People need to appreciate that rain can recharge rivers and refill water tanks quite quickly, however this is not necessarily the case with groundwater systems, that may take some time to recover," she added.

"The water storage directions limit water use to 'reasonable household domestic needs and stock welfare needs'. Water cannot be taken for irrigation, garden watering (other than with recycled domestic water from laundries, kitchens and bathrooms), car and boat-washing, water-blasting or filling swimming and spa pools.

"We will be monitoring water use, and will consider enforcement action against those who are found to be using water for non-essential purposes."

Anyone who had a critical need to take water, and was unclear about whether they could do so under a water shortage direction, should contact the regional council on 0800 002-004.

The Far North aquifers covered by the water shortage directions are Russell/Tapeka, Taipā, Cooper's Beach/Cable Bay/Mangonui, Taupo Bay, Tauranga Bay, Matauri Bay and Te Ngaere Bay.