Another dry summer is looming for Northland, with some areas having received a third of their usual rainfall, prompting a warning from a territorial authority of difficulties if there is little rain before Christmas.
The Far North District Council has already applied level two water restrictions in Kaikohe, which means households and businesses cannot use unattended garden hoses, sprinklers and irrigation devices.
The restrictions are due to a warmer-than-average winter, compounded by very warm and dry conditions in June and July.
FNDC general manager infrastructure and asset management Andy Finch said raw water sources for Kaikohe have proved particularly vulnerable and, after such a dry winter, both river and groundwater levels were worryingly low.
He said for the Wairoro Stream and the Monument Hill bore to meet community needs over the coming summer, restrictions on water use must be put in place now.
To help reduce demand on the treated supply, he said FNDC was also contacting bulk water carriers and major users in Kaikohe to find ways they could help reduce water consumption.
He urged all residents to conserve water to help prevent the need for even tighter water restrictions later.
According to figures from the Northland Regional Council, Kaikohe received 1028mm of rain in the year to October, Kaitaia received 1084mm, while 1141mm fell in Kerikeri.
In Whangarei, 865mm fell and Dargaville got 999mm.
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Sandra Bowden of Tawapou Coastal Native Plants in Matapouri said water use was monitored every summer despite her business having council consent to draw water.
"We put plants in places where they get water and we're daily regulating how much water we need and save as much as we can to get through the season," she said.
Tawapou has about 50,000 plants on an auto irrigated system.
NRC group manager regulator services Colin Dall said it was too early to say with any certainty whether Northland was likely to face drought conditions in the coming months, or the places this might happen.
However, he said the Mid and Far North areas were already experiencing a large "rainfall deficit" and, as the region headed into summer, things could change relatively quickly if there was little rain between now and Christmas.
The problem had been made worse by consecutive dry periods leading up to winter this year, he said.
In the first six months of this year alone, Dall said Kerikeri and Whangārei were the driest they had been in more than 80 years— since 1935 and 1937 respectively— and the situation hasn't really improved much since.
Dall said with such large deficits, it was extremely unlikely that Northland would head into summer with anything close to average rainfall figures, making sensible prior planning crucial.
"We're certainly already urging people not to waste water and to make sure they take sensible precautions to prepare for potentially dry conditions later, especially those relying on their own supply or those with water tanks."
Dall said district councils operating public water supplies may also need to look at imposing water restrictions earlier than normal in some dry areas, including around Kaikohe and Dargaville.
He says if necessary, NRC could impose formal water rationing and or water shortage directions as tools for managing water takes in dry catchments.
District councils taking water for public water supply and farmers irrigating pasture were among the biggest users among the several hundred people or organisations with resource consent to take water, he said.
Kaipara District Council has no plans to impose water restrictions at this stage but will continue to monitor river levels.
Whangārei District Council water services manager Andrew Venmore said there was no immediate need for any water restrictions at this stage.
"Responsible water use is something that we do encourage all year round – things like shorter showers, buying appliances with an AAA water conservation rating, and minimising garden watering over summer can help to lower your household's water bill and conserve our water supply."
According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa), Northland has on average about 55 days between November and April when there is insufficient soil moisture to maintain plant growth without irrigation.
Periods of 15 days or longer with less than 1mm of rain on any day are referred to as "dry spells". Dry spells are not uncommon in Northland during the summer and early autumn.
* Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving.
* Take shorter showers.
* Flush the toilet less often.
* Store a bottle of drinking water in the fridge to avoid running more water than you need.
* Put the plug in the sink when washing vegetables and avoid running the tap.
* Use the dishwasher for full loads only and wait until you have a full load of washing.
* Avoid using garden sprinklers
For more tips go to bewaterwise.org.nz