Environment Southland is gearing up for a dry summer, alerting irrigators and other major consent holders to the possibility that they may have to cut back or cease water takes and discharges to rivers.
Despite some rain in recent days NIWA’s climate forecasts have reinforced the observations from the Council’s own scientists that the “La Niña” weather pattern has already brought warmer, drier weather to the south and that this is likely to continue through the summer.
Warren Tuckey, the Council’s Director of Environmental Management, said today that December had generally been dry all over Southland. As a result, river levels are trending downwards and many aquifers are already at low levels.
“The situation’s far from critical, but we’re preparing in case the situation worsens and giving a heads-up to the major water users,” he said.
A total fire ban is now in place for all of Southland and parts of the Clutha District covered by the Southern Rural Fire District.
Southern Rural Fire Authority principal fire officer Mike Grant said the ban means that no-one can light any fires in the open and also suspends all existing fire permits.
“People with large piles of debris still burning should be looking to extinguish these immediately,” he said.
“The only exception to the ban is for gas barbecues and cookers in properly constructed containers and in safe areas”.
The fire ban also applies to all townships within the Southland District, Gore District and Invercargill City and also prohibits people in these towns from burning rubbish, using incinerators, or cooking outdoors with open braziers.
The continued hot and dry weather coupled with warm windy conditions means the fire risk is high to very high throughout most of Southland.
While some rain is forecast over the next few days it is not predicted to be sufficient to significantly drop fire danger levels.
“With weather conditions predicted to continue and reduced vegetation moisture, it will rapidly push the fire danger into the extreme range,” Mr Grant said.
“The ban has been imposed for public safety”.
The Te Anau basin and northern Southland is particularly dry, with large areas of grassland drying rapidly. Dry and dead vegetation creates more fuel for fires making fire fighting more difficult and dangerous.
Significant rain is needed over an extended period before the ban would be lifted.
Activities, such as chain sawing or using machinery like mowers or tractors, are also potentially hazardous, he said.
“Anyone using machinery in dry grass should have water on hand to dampen down the area beforehand and to extinguish any sparks,” he said.
“If areas continue to dry out, restrictions could be imposed on activities which have a high risk of causing fires.”
Image – What appears to be a controlled burn off before the fire ban east of Invercargill last week / WeatherWatch.co.nz