Rain not enough to ease worries

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:52 18/03/2013

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Nelson's first rain in 34 days has brought some relief to farmers, but grape growers are now on edge, as high humidity has struck the beginning of the harvest.

The rain at the weekend broke a record dry run across the region, and is good news for areas facing severe water shortages, but Tasman District Council Dry Weather Taskforce convener Dennis Bush-King said it was not enough to ease water restrictions on the Waimea Plains.

John Mathieson, of the Nelson Weather Service, said the last day measurable rain fell in Nelson City and Stoke was on February 10, when a "meagre" 0.1 millimetres was recorded.

"The duration without measurable rainfall of 34 days is the longest dry run recorded since records began locally in 1928."

However, he said the large amount of rain which fell in the first two weeks of January and the first week of February - a total of 179mm - meant rainfall for the year was still above average, by about 7mm.

Federated Farmers Golden Bay president Graham Ball predicted widespread relief across the region, depending on the amount of rain received.

"Golden Bay received a reasonable amount. On my farm we had about 94mm of rain, which was a really good drought-breaker, but we need continuing rain."

He said another spell of fine weather would reduce the effect, but yesterday's rain was "very gratefully received".

Tapawera farmer Dave McGaveston, who told the Nelson Mail last week it was his worst season in 40 years of farming, was slightly more positive today, but said there was still a long way to go before farmers were out of the woods.

"We had only 10mm yesterday, which is a start, but everything is dead and it would need three or four days [of rain] to liven things up. It would take probably a month or six weeks to grow anything significant."

He was hoping that the currently mild temperatures would help to kick-start growth, but the smattering of rain was unlikely to "turn around months of scorched earth".

Kahurangi Estate winemaker Neil Todd said the rain was "bad timing" for grape growers, but it had to come.

The harvest began last Thursday and it was now a matter of "wait and see", he said.

"There are no worries about the fruit splitting, but there are about the effect the weather might have on any disease that might be hiding there."

The emergence of any problems might depend on how vigorous growers had been with their spraying programmes.

"If people have been lax because of the great weather we've had, they might suffer now."

Mr Bush-King said Golden Bay had at least 85mm of rain, so water-permit holders there were likely to move out of restrictions, but the Waimea Plains had not had enough rain.

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"Although the Waimea River peaked at 28 [cubic metres per second), it has dropped overnight to 14 cumecs.

"The good news is that the Motupiko water-management zone will not move to stage two as from today and the remnant Wai-iti area outside of the Wai-iti dam service zone will not move to stage one."

Other changes were likely, Mr Bush-King said, but until the impact on groundwater was seen, all other restrictions would remain in place until they were reviewed by the Dry Weather Task Force at its meeting tomorrow.

Waimea Rural Fire Authority principal fire officer Ian Reade said today the rain had reduced the fire risk from code orange to yellow.

However, he warned against people thinking that it was now safe to light fires.

"It won't take much to dry out again, and until there's enough rain so that moisture gets into deeper layers of soil, caution is still needed."

Mr Mathieson said areas across the region could expect scattered showers, with one or two quite heavy showers today.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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