Drought fears as region waits for rain

The north Waikato is drying out, prompting fears of another crippling drought.

Worst hit appears to be the Thames-Coromandel District, where the council and neighbouring Hauraki District Council have imposed what has become a traditional total fire ban for the summer.

Waikato District Council has imposed a restricted fire season which means permits are required for fires in the open air in rural areas.

"If you put a spade in the ground and dug down you would find it's dry, really dry," said Thames Valley Rural Fire Authority's Del Read.

"Generally we are probably a little bit better off than we were this time last year, but not much."

Last year's drought saw farmers struggle to feed their stock, forcing many to dry off their herds four to six weeks early.

"I have heard that some people are talking about drought conditions now and if we don't get substantial rain in the next month we will be in drought conditions," Mr Read said. "There's nothing fantastic forecast in the next month, just the odd shower here and there."

The hills of Whitianga dairy farmer Dirk Sieling's Moewai Rd farm are starting to brown, robbed of any decent rain in the three weeks since Christmas.

"Some more rain would be very, very welcome," Mr Sieling said. "We are getting to the stage where we need more rain. In the next couple of weeks I can't see any rain coming at all."

So far this season, milk production has been comparable to last season. Production dropped drastically last year as the drought took a stranglehold half-way through last summer.

Waikato Regional Fire Committee chairman Andy Baker said conditions were not as dry as the same time last year thanks to the odd shower, but he did not want people to become complacent and light fires.

"We are getting three or four days of fine weather and then we are getting a little bit of rain, so some people are reasonably relaxed, but the big issue is the wind which dries things out," he said. "In some areas there's still a little bit of green around and people think it will be fine and start a fire."

Ohinewai dairy farmer Neil Bateup was also concerned things were getting dry. "We are reasonably dry here, but some areas around here have had lots of good rain. It's very, very patchy."

The dry conditions have prompted the region's councils to ask residents to be careful with water.

Hamilton city and Waikato and Waipa districts are all at water alert level 1. This means sprinklers can be used between 6am and 8am and 6pm and 8pm and hand-held hoses are allowed at any time.

Smart water programme co-ordinator Charmaine Petereit said with people returning from holiday, higher than average temperatures and little rain forecast, a move to alert level 2 became more likely.

Waikato Times