Marlborough vineyards cry out for water

DRYING OUT: Andrew "Sock" Sixtus.
DEREK FLYNN/Fairfax NZ

DRYING OUT: Andrew "Sock" Sixtus.

Millions of litres of water is being delivered to distressed vineyard owners, as the dry Marlborough conditions begin to take a toll on vines.

Transport companies have been inundated with phone calls from vineyard owners who have no water to irrigate their crops.

TNL Bulk Liquids supervisor Tim Wills said they were transporting up to 70,000 litres of water a day to three clients in the Southern Valleys.

And the client base "is only going to get bigger and bigger.

"We are certainly delivering a lot of water. We are delivering between 60,000 and 70,000 litres a day, which is about three or four trips a day."

Wills and his staff were "flat out" and had been working long hours, he said.

"I was just talking to another client and he wants us to do about 10 loads a week. That's a sign that it [the drought] is definitely getting worse."

They started delivering water to vineyards about a month ago, he said.

"We haven't done this in a few years, maybe about three or four years ago, but it wasn't as bad as this."

They pulled water from the Blenheim township supply, Wills said.

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In 2010, there was a major upgrade to the town's water supply, which included improvements to the water treatment system and also storage capacity.

A Marlborough District Council spokeswoman said three vineyard owners had applied for consent to allow trucks to pull water from the Blenheim water supply. As of yesterday, two had been approved and the third was likely to be approved.

These approvals come after the council appealed to all Marlburians to watch their water use.

Crafar Crouch Construction Picton manager Wayne Bowden said his team was delivering between 60,000 and 70,000 litres of water a day to vineyards in the Southern Valleys.

"We've been busy. It's really just started to crank up this week though. But we have done a little bit over the last three weeks delivering water to those poor people.

"We have never been as full-on as we've been this year. We've done it on the odd occasion, but that was because something had broken down, not because they couldn't draw water."

Crews were trucking water to keep vineyard reservoirs full, so they could continue to irrigate their vines, Bowden said.

Two water tankers would make about eight trips a day, with water they had pulled from a private bore in Blenheim, he said.

Simcox Construction general manager Antony Clark said they had received more calls than ever before to deliver water to vineyards. "This year has been more of a stand-out, but I think it's more of a safeguard for most of them. They need it for their contingency plans."

The calls were mainly coming from vineyards in the Wairau Valley, Clark said. "We've been asked for a one-off 20,000-litre load, and another for a couple of loads every day or second day.

"There are just trying to safeguard their supply." If they started transporting water, it would mean juggling other work commitments, Clark said.

"I'm anticipating we will start delivering water soon . . . unless we get some decent rain. "We are just going to have to manage our jobs and people will have to work extended hours or other shifts. We will fit them in though."

Heagney Bros co-owner Peter Heagney said they had taken calls asking for water deliveries but they hadn't made any trips yet.

 - The Marlborough Express

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