The lasting effects of the drought are seen by Rural Contractors NZ board members as a bigger challenge for contractors and farmers than COVID-19.
Otago Regional Council manager of resource science Dean Olsen says soil moisture is currently close to normal for the time of year, and not as dry as it was this time last year.
“We’ve seen some good levels of rain in October, which has helped replenish the moisture in the soils and aquifers and in some rivers, but with a La Nina event predicted, parts of the region remain at risk of drought-like conditions,” Dr Olsen says.
“Looking back over the past six months, we can see that conditions over much of Otago have been on the dry side, which is reflected in the condition of some of our river systems.”
Dr Olsen says river flows had been below normal for this time of the year in the Taieri, Manuherikia, and Lindis catchments. Low groundwater levels were observed in the North Otago Volcanic Aquifer, Waitaki Plains, and parts of the lower Taieri.
With NIWA predicting average to below average rainfall for the region, ORC is encouraging farmers to get together with other water users to prepare for the likelihood that they will need to share available water.
Council chief executive Peter Bodeker says he is confident water users would do their utmost to manage the region’s water responsibly.
“We saw throughout last spring and summer that water users operated both responsibly and collaboratively in how they responded to very dry conditions,” Bodeker says.
“We saw an extremely high level of compliance with consent conditions, and users responding swiftly to our requests to reduce taking water or stop altogether when required.
“Communities did an outstanding job of adhering to minimum flows, and sharing and rationing what water is available. I’m sure we will again witness this if the coming summer proves as challenging.”
Bodeker says it was also important for communities to understand the pressures that dry conditions brought, not just on the river systems, but on the farming community.
The Government has extended its declaration of an adverse event to cover most of the eastern seaboard of the South Island. In Otago this includes all of the areas within the Dunedin, Central Otago, and Waitaki districts.
The classification means that farming families who are struggling may be able to in some circumstances access support and financial assistance.
Bodeker says the first point of contact for any family needing help was the local rural support trust.