Whangārei is breaking drought records with 33 consecutive days without rain — the second-worst dry spell in nearly three decades.
And the Far North the District Council has admitted it's struggling to meet extra workloads created by the severe drought amid fresh health concerns that could be caused by extreme water shortages.
MetService records show that scattered showers over the weekend made no difference to Northland's drought but a front moving north from the South Island this weekend is forecast to bring rain over much of Northland.
MetService meteorologist Kyle Lee said while the rain would not be drought-breaking, it would be a welcome relief, particularly for farmers reeling from a prolonged spell of dry weather.
Anything less than 1mm is not counted in rain statistics and Whangārei is faring the worst of other places around Northland, with 33 straight days without rain.
The longest dry period in Whangārei was 42 days, between December 5, 1990 and January 15, 1991. In comparison, Kerikeri received 3.4mm on January 29 and a further 5.4mm on Sunday while 4.2mm fell in Kaitaia at the end of January.
"A front moves north from the South Island on Thursday and arrives in Northland late Saturday and that rain will be welcomed although it won't be drought-breaking. You need a couple of those fronts to make a dent," Lee said.
Meanwhile, reports by Civil Defence Northland and Northland Regional Council have raised questions around the management of the FNDC's water supply network and highlighted concerns about health risks associated with untreated water sources.
According to Civil Defence, waterways across the region are at the lowest flows recorded in 50 years and some are already at levels last seen during the drought of 2009-10.
The Awanui River – the main source of drinking water for Kaitaia - is currently experiencing historic low levels.
Northland residents wake to rain but no reprieve
Reducing water use by 20 per cent could delay restrictions
The NRC issued a water shortage direction to council on February 7 in relation to taking water from Awanui River and Okahu Stream.
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The letter, which was leaked to the Northern Advocate said: "Flows in the Awanui river and Okahu stream are at such low levels the NRC considers that a serious temporary water shortage exists within its catchment."
The taking of water could continue with strict conditions including:
* Checking the entire water supply network for leaks and immediately repairing them.
* Updating the existing contingency plan for the Kaitaia water supply in the event that water can no longer be taken from Awanui River.
* Obtain daily readings of water used by the five largest non-domestic water users and show how they are reducing their water usage.
* Provide a report on the monitoring and enforcement of water restrictions on domestic users and include the number of level 4 restriction breaches and enforcement action taken.
Council infrastructure and asset management general manager Andy Finch said council is "generally complying" with the conditions.
"The water shortage direction has a number of reporting and administrative requirements that we are struggling to meet due to extra workloads created by the drought," he said.
The five largest water takes in the Far North are the council's public water supply take from the Awanui River, a groundwater take from the Aupouri aquifer for irrigation, two dam takes in Kerikeri for irrigation and a groundwater take in Sweetwater for pasture irrigation.
NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall said the NRC will continue to monitor these water users to ensure compliance with consent conditions and water shortage directions.
However: "It's up to the Far North District Council to manage restrictions of the biggest users of water in the towns which have public water supplies," Dall said.
Finch said he was comfortable that the top five users were not abusing their access to water.
The council had received 31 complaints about water restriction breaches, he said, and was "educating people about the need to adhere to the current level of restrictions and warning them that further action will be taken if breaches are repeated".
FNDC was also monitoring flows daily to gauge overall leaks and to identify breaks.
"Dry conditions have also increased the frequency of water pipe breaks stretching our teams to their limits," Finch said.
"We have seen significant breaks in Opononi, Rawene and Kerikeri where the reservoirs were significantly depleted or unable to fill due to large breaks."
Civil Defence Northland has installed emergency water tanks in Kaitaia and Kaikohe for residents to collect water from if water runs out. Both towns, along with Dargaville and Baylys Beach, have level 4 restrictions in place.
A February 14 report by Civil Defence Northland said the region may require more emergency water supplies.
The report cited concerns about health risks associated with untreated water sources for consumption, along with shortages of bottled water, empty water containers and hand sanitiser.
Northland District Health Board has issued several health messages around potential health risks associated with the water shortage.
These include the likelihood of sediment in tanks when people get their tanks refilled, and the importance of letting the water settle, and the risk of more bugs in rivers when water levels are lower and warmer.
Meanwhile, the council has revealed plans to provide supplementary water supplies for Kaitaia.
Mayor John Carter said council plans to make the Aupouri aquifer – which is currently used for commercial purposes for the rural sector - a permanent water source for residents by next year.
The council will also start using the bore, located about 8km west of Awanui at Sweetwater, for bulk water carriers to fill residents' water tanks which will help to ease pressure on Awanui River and Okahu Stream.
This should be up and running in about three weeks.
The council is also talking to the owner of another bore which could be a second supplementary water source for Kaitaia.
It recently made a small dam in the Awanui river to raise the water level at the inlet pipe to the town supply which will make it easier to extract water. The council has consent from NRC.
"There are a number of options on the table currently being investigated to see if we can reduce demand on Kaitaia," Carter said.
"At the moment we're focused on short term supplementary planning. We are planning long term solutions as well and are working with the other councils [Whangarei, NRC and Kaipara] and officials working on a long term strategy."
The council is investigating "several promising options" for supplementary supplies for Kaikohe which will be announced as soon as possible, he said.
Finch said level 4 water restrictions will remain in place until further notice and he urged households and businesses to continue to reduce their water usage.
"We are grateful to Kaitaia for reducing its water use by more than 14 per cent from 4-10 February. However, we need people to make further savings, so we achieve our water use reduction target of 25 per cent."
Kaikohe residents and businesses have also been praised for reducing water consumption by 19 per cent.
This has been helped by Northland Region Corrections Facility, which has begun trucking water in from Auckland.
The prison at Ngawha usually consumes around 225,000 litres per day from the Kaikohe town supply.
Prison director Michael Rongo said the prison started using water tankers to bring water to the site on Sunday and has introduced other measures including reducing water pressure and cutting prisoners' showers from two per day to one.
While the savings may help to delay or prevent the need for more drastic measures, "it's not a signal to relax", Finch said.
Civil Defence also praised the water carriers who have been keeping Northlanders' tanks topped up with water over the last few weeks.
"We know you've been working all permissible hours... We also know you've been having to prioritise and achieve as much as you can in a day and people aren't always as appreciative as they should be," it posted on social media.
"You're central to getting Northland through this situation and we really value the way you just keep on keeping on."
The council set up a "water crisis information tent" in Kaikohe last Friday and is installing one at the Kaitaia A&P show on February 22.