Southland's drought over, more rain needed

19:29, Apr 08 2013

A rainy start to April has relieved pressure on South Island hydro lakes and reduced the chances of electricity shortages this winter, power companies say.

Hydro lakes had reached low levels in near-drought conditions during the past few months, but rain has provided some reprieve.

Meridian Energy external communications manager Claire Shaw said Meridian's power-generating lakes had been low, but levels were not critical.

Lake Manapouri was 52 per cent full relative to the maximum for this time of year, while Lake Te Anau was only 36 per cent full relative to the maximum for this time of year.

Both lakes had re-entered normal operating conditions, she said.

Lake Pukaki, in South Canterbury, had continued to decline because of low inflows and the temporary closure of Genesis' Tekapo canals, but this pressure was expected to ease once the canals were re-opened, she said.

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The lake was 54 per cent full relative to the maximum for this time of year.

45S Weather Services manager Andy Fraser said the rest of the region was now in "recovery mode" after the bout of rain.

It would take a few weeks for groundwater reserves and grass growth to return to normal levels, but the big dry was definitely over, Mr Fraser said.

In the first week of April, Invercargill had had more than half the total rainfall of March.

"So far this month we've had 19mm. That's compared to the entirety of the previous month when we had only 32mm."

Federated Farmers Southland president Russell MacPherson said while the rain had helped refresh the region, most places would need a little extra to keep pastures green.

"I think probably most people are really looking for quite a good dollop still, especially in northern and western Southland."

MetService predicts more rain will hit Invercargill, Gore and rural Southland today, with showers continuing across the province on Thursday.

Queenstown is also expected to get rain today, as well as weekend showers, while Central Otago remains relatively dry until Friday.

Genesis Energy public affairs manager Richard Gordon said consumers should not be concerned about the security or supply of electricity.

Lake Tekapo, where Genesis has two power stations, was at 94 per cent of its average level yesterday, he said.

The company's Tekapo canals had been closed since January for repairs, which had allowed the lake to refill during the dry end of summer.

The stations would reopen and begin supplying electricity again in a few weeks, he said.

While Genesis' North Island hydro levels were still quite low at present, Mr Gordon said coal and wind-powered stations would cover any hydro shortfalls. He did not believe blackouts or shortages were likely at this stage.

The Southland Times