Irrigators, this is intended as an interim update of the current situation with the lake and irrigation restrictions.
The lake is within days of reaching the zero storage position of 370m. We are trying desperately to keep off this level which is, under the river plan, a trigger level whereby we must reduce the releases to match inflows. If we do get to this stage, it is quite clear the river would run dry in the lower reaches. Last night we reduced the releases back as far as we think we can to maintain the connection in the lower river. Even with this last effort, we are less than a week away from running out. We are investigating the option of lowering the lake below the 370m level but this will require agreement and support of a number of parties including ECan. The Water Shortage Direction that is currently in place (effective through to 15th March) has a restriction on all irrigation from affiliated consents.
Looking ahead and “where to from here” with the lake and irrigation opportunities we are trying to determine a regime that will provide an opportunity for at least another ‘round’ of irrigation (I envisage 8-10 days at 50%) before the onset of the late autumn conditions. It is obvious we are going to need a turnaround in weather conditions to do this because under the current conditions there just is not the water to do this.
We are especially conscious of the irrigators who since early January, have been restricted by the minimum flows in their own tributaries (specifically Nth and Sth Opuha, Opihi and Te Ngawai). Under the immediate situation where the lake and river are in such a precarious position we do not believe we can seek dispensation for irrigation if the tributaries were to get up for a short period. This is a possible scenario this weekend. We are however preparing a proposal for discussion on Monday with OEFRAG whereby we can provide some limited relief to these restricted irrigators if certain conditions are able to be achieved. I expect however, that we are going to have to move away from our current lake situation (zero storage and not even able to meet the reduced minimum flow in the river) before that will be possible. We will be looking to enable these restricted irrigators to have some opportunity if their tributaries get up on a short term basis as we build enough reserve to then enable all of the augmented irrigators (including the ‘schemes’) to have the 8-10 day round envisaged.
There does look like there may be some rain through the region at the end of the week/early weekend. Even if the tributaries do rise above their trigger levels we will on this occasion not be able to allow any irrigation at this stage. Hopefully any rain the does eventuate will provide some limited relief directly on the paddocks.
We will continue to try and find a way to provide earliest relief/opportunity to all our irrigators and I will advise you promptly of any favourable change to the operating regime.
Regards, Tony McCormick