This summer has been like those I remember as a child with day after day of hot, sunny weather.
Those were summers when we were plagued by drought just like this one, which is now official:
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has today officially declared the drought conditions on the east coast of the South Island as being a medium-scale adverse event.
“This is recognition of the extreme dry conditions farmers and growers are facing, and triggers additional Government support,” says Mr Guy.
The areas affected cover parts of Otago, Canterbury and the Marlborough District.
“The Ministry for Primary Industries has been monitoring the conditions very closely over recent months. Most farmers have coped so far by destocking and using feed supplies, and most will not need extra support. However it’s clear that conditions are only going to get tougher as the seasons change and we need to prepare now.
This week local groups, including Rural Support Trusts and Federated Farmers, have acknowledged the need of medium scale recovery measures to deal with the consequence of the drought.
“Extra Government funding will now be available to Rural Support Trusts who work closely with farmers, providing support and guidance.
“Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) will also be made available in the next few months. These will be available from Work and Income, through the Ministry of Social Development. They are equivalent to the Jobseeker Support benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship.
“It’s important to note that support is already available from Government agencies in all regions. Farmers should contact IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and standard hardship assistance is available from Work and Income.
“Federated Farmers have started their feedline to coordinate supplies, and it’s pleasing to see some banks offering special packages.”
Mr Guy made the announcement today at Opuha Dam in South Canterbury which will run dry in the next few weeks without decent rainfall.
“Many rural people can be reluctant to ask for help, but it is important for them to know that support is available.”
Mr Guy says the Government is also keeping a very close eye on Wairarapa and southern Hawkes Bay which are also suffering from very dry conditions.
What are the criteria for declaring a medium scale adverse event?
- There are three levels of ‘adverse events’ – localised, medium and national. These can cover events like drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
- The criteria for assessing the scale of an adverse event are:
- Options available for the community to prepare for and recover from the event;
- Magnitude of the event (likelihood and scale of physical impact), and;
- Capacity of the community to cope economically and socially impact.
The declaration reinforces the case for more water storage:
Today’s official declaration that the drought conditions on the east coast of the South Island are a medium-scale adverse event strengthens the argument for further national investment in regional water storage, says IrrigationNZ.
“The only way to prevent communities suffering drought in dry summers is through storing alpine water. We do not need to wait for rivers to run dry, for fish to die and for communities to panic. New Zealand has plentiful supply which flows out to sea; we just need to get better at banking water and getting it to the needy places,” says Andrew Curtis, IrrigationNZ CEO.
“The official declaration of drought shows that extended dry weather has a significant impact in New Zealand despite its high levels of rainfall. It means that farmers and communities need help.
“We need to make 2015 the year New Zealand finally learns from drought and gets on with building regional-scale water storage to prevent local distress. There are several projects in the pipeline around the country but they need significant community, business and government support to proceed. This South Canterbury drought will cost New Zealanders millions. It’s time we bit the bullet and had a national conversation around how we manage drought,” says Mr Curtis.
“Water storage and irrigation will allow New Zealand to survive climatic variations like extended dry spells which scientists tell us are on the increase, particularly for those of us living in eastern New Zealand. Drought takes away not only income from farmers; it strips whole communities of water for everything from boating to gardening, tourism businesses that rely on healthy river flows to fish struggling to survive in parched streams. Water storage is not just about propping up irrigation; it supplements all of these community values”, says Mr Curtis.
We’re insulated from the worst affects of drought at home thanks to North Otago Irrigation Company’s scheme, fed from the Waitaki River, which is 99% reliable.
But many dairy farmers rely on dryland farms for winter feed and grazing, both of which will be in tight supply.
Irrigation schemes in other areas are restricting takes and some have had to stop all irrigation.
Dairy farms relying on irrigation have reduced milking and many will have to dry-off cows soon, more than three months early.
The economic impact of the drought will hit the small businesses which service and supply farms too.
There’s now sufficient, reliable irrigation in North Otago to keep grass and crops growing on many farms and reduce the downstream impact on the local community.
More water storage would give other areas that protection too.