Bathing, drinking and washing will be the only fun Wellingtonians can have with water come Saturday, when a region-wide ban on outdoor water use comes into force.
Councils across Wellington, Hutt Valley and Porirua will enforce the ban, which the councils will join by turning off the irrigation systems that keep most of their parks and sports grounds green.
Only Westpac Stadium and the Basin Reserve will be exempt, meaning the visiting English cricket team will enjoy a lush outfield while locals watch their playing surfaces dry up.
The move could have serious financial and social consequences for Wellington sport, with some fields possibly out of action for four months if the rain does not arrive in time to save them.
Ngaire Best, water and waste portfolio leader at Wellington City Council, said not irrigating could result in "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in damage for its fields if they turned to dust.
A final decision is yet to be made, but it appears the region's councils will continue to water their cricket pitches in order to keep them playable until the end of the season. Some parks will also continue to be irrigated with grey water.
The ramped-up water ban comes as the region's supply drops to near crisis level. Greater Wellington Regional Council predicts there may be as few as 20 days of water left for Wellington, Porirua and Hutt Valley without any significant rain.
The last time that happened was on February 4, while the capital has hardly seen a drop since February 11.
Wellington City is now on track for its longest dry spell since 1947, when Kelburn's rain gauge did not record any rain over 1 millimetre for 34 days.
From Saturday, any non-essential use of water outdoors will be banned.
Ms Best said the city council's biggest water-users would be getting calls asking them to cut back. The fire service would be asked to restrict the amount of water it uses during practice exercises, while the police and other large vehicle fleet operators would be asked to not wash their cars.
Shutting off the sprinklers at all but Wellington's two most economically significant sports venues was a tough call, she said.
"The implications are going to be huge but we need to deal with this problem as a region so we can maximise the use of those sports fields in three or four months' time. Because if there's no grass on them, they will turn into mud when the water eventually comes."
A regional forum would be convened next week to discuss how to deal with "little Johnny and little Mary" not being able to play hockey, football or rugby, Ms Best said.
Sport Wellington and Capital Football both said they were not in a position to comment last night.
All of the councils affected by the water ban said yesterday that they would have staff out fixing leaks and monitoring non-compliance. They stressed people would be given ample opportunity to comply, but prosecution was an option for those who flagrantly ignored the ban, which could attract fines of up to $5000.
Greater Wellington regional councillor Nigel Wilson, who chairs the committee in charge of water supply, said councils would find the restrictions tough, but it was important they sent the right message. "If we can make a 10 per cent saving, then we buy ourselves an extra 10 days, and I think the public can do that."
There was just 70 million litres of water available in Greater Wellington's three water-supply rivers yesterday.
LITTLE RAIN DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Looming weekend rain is unlikely to douse the big dry but forecasters think normal autumn showers will return by the end of the month.
Rain is forecast for Wellington, Wairarapa and parts of Hawke's Bay on Sunday and Monday, easing to showers by Tuesday and Wednesday. But Greater Wellington regional councillor Nigel Wilson said a single day of rain could actually be more unhelpful than no rain at all.
"Because the ground is so hard and dry . . . all of the stuff on the side of the river gets washed into the water, which then makes processing that water much more difficult.
"People shouldn't be thinking, 'It's raining today so we're going to be OK,' because it doesn't work like that."
The region needed about three consecutive days of rain for the ground to soften up and moisture to set in, he said.
WeatherWatch head analyst Philip Duncan said the weekend's coming low was "sizeable" but would not be a "silver bullet". "The rain will be welcome and will certainly bring relief to some - but sadly not all. Northern and eastern areas do run the risk of missing out on some of the rain and instead may only get a few showers."
Rain starting on Sunday is expected to peter out by Thursday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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