Northland's big dry has prompted a warning for people to start conserving water and to brace for further restrictions as present conditions are likely to dominate this month's weather.
Northland Regional Council figures show that with just 5mm to 10mm of rainfall last month along the east coast from Doubtless Bay to Whangārei, it was the driest January since records began in 1947.
The average rainfall in January in Northland is between 70mm and 100mm.
The only silver lining in the overhanging clouds is the forecast for rain late next week but it won't be enough to make up the deficit from very dry months through winter and autumn last year.
Territorial authorities in Northland are already talking to big water users in their districts about the need to conserve water while water tankers are twice as busy as they are at this time of the year.
NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall said Bay of Islands' catchments in particular needed between 250mm and 300mm of steady rain— equivalent to several months of rain— to make up for the dry spell.
"Unfortunately, not only has Northland already had significantly less summer rain than usual but the latest four-week forecast from MetService indicates we're unlikely to receive much rain in February either."
Dall said district councils have already begun imposing water restrictions in some parts of the region and that NRC has already contacted some of the more vulnerable watertake consent users urging them to conserve water where possible.
Several hundred people or organisations with formal consents to take water ranged from private individuals for relatively small amounts through to some major users taking hundreds of thousands of litres daily, he said.
"Some of our biggest users are district councils taking water for public water supply as well as farmers irrigating pasture."
Given the dry weather to date – and the prospect of more in February – Dall said people generally would be wise to take whatever water conservation steps they could now to avoid possible tougher formal restrictions later.
"We're urging everyone to ensure they're not taking or using more water than they need to.
By making a little bit of an extra effort now, and if necessary planning ahead to secure tankered water supplies, they'll potentially be helping spare themselves a much worse headache later."
Yvonne King of Longreach Nursery in Whangārei is worried the water level in a lake she relied on may dip further if it doesn't rain soon.
"I am hanging out for next week and I am looking at the MetService everyday," she said.
Water 2 Go owner Andrew Kevey has two water trucks, each doing about six runs daily.
"I am doing twice as many jobs this week as I was last week when I had just one truck running. Demand for water has definitely picked up in the last one week," he said.
Kaipara District Council will ban the use of hoses and sprinklers from next week among other measures.
Spokesman Ben Hope said council officers have spoken with big water users such as Silver Fern Farms about the need to conserve the precious commodity.
The Far North District Council is closely monitoring its water sources and will make a decision on further restrictions early next week.
Water levels at Whangārei District Council's Whau Valley and Wilson's dams are over 90 per cent and there are no restrictions in place at present.
Fonterra's site at Kauri doesn't use council water while operations at its factory in Maungaturoto are using 22 per cent less water daily as it heads into the tail end of the milking season.
"The site routinely reuses water and saves up to 1 million litres per day using an evaporation system," the dairy giant said.
Refining New Zealand at Marsden Pt is also monitoring the situation and managing its water use closely.
Water saving tips during the big dry:
Don't leave taps running while you shave or brush your teeth.
Wash vegetables in a bowl of water rather than under a running tap.
Use the shower instead of the bath.
Only use the dishwasher or washing machine when there's a full load.
Use a broom rather than a hose to clean driveways.