Dry spell or a global drought?

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By JIM CHIPP

The Welling­ton re­gion’s Jan­uary rain­fall was the low­est since records be­gan in 1879. Is it a pass­ing dry sea­son or the start of some­thing worse?

Alice­town river ob­server Robin Westenra says we could be head­ing for catas­tro­phe.

Karori Reser­voir recorded 3.8mm of rain dur­ing the month, the low­est since 1879, com­pared to the long- term av­er­age of 81mm, ac­cord­ing to Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil.

Wainuiomata Reser­voir got even less, with 1.8mm, the least since 1890.

Hutt River’s flow rate at Kaitoke on Fe­bru­ary 1 was 1215 litres per sec­ond, down 35 per cent on Jan­uary’s av­er­age, which was in turn 65 per cent be­low the long-term av­er­age for Jan­uary.

If the level were to drop be­low 600 litres per sec­ond, the re­gional coun­cil’s re­source con­sent re­quires it to stop tak­ing wa­ter at Te Marua.

Westenra has been ob­serv­ing Hutt River’s changes for sev­eral years.

He said the long-term trend was grim.

‘‘ It seems we’ve had three re­ally dry sea­sons in a row. I don’t see this fin­ish­ing any time soon,’’ he said.

Westenra said it was far from a lo­cal dry spell.

Cal­i­for­nia faced a 1000-year drought, and de­clared a state of wa­ter emer­gency in Jan­uary.

The wa­ter sup­ply for Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, was crit­i­cal in the mid­dle of the rainy sea­son.

Westenra said the sit­u­a­tion was the same around most of the world – other than eastern Europe – as a re­sult of global warm­ing.

With the Arc­tic ice melt­ing, the jet­stream had changed its pat­tern, tak­ing cold, Arc­tic air south into North Amer­ica and Europe.

At the same time, warm air from the south had en­tered the Arc­tic through the Ber­ing and Farm Straits, warm­ing the south­ern hemi­sphere and bring­ing drought.

‘‘The worry in my mind is not so fo­cused on sea-level rise.

‘‘It’s de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion of the land and habi­tat, so we won’t be able to grow our food.

‘ To as­sume New Zealand’s drought, and Welling­ton’s wa­ter cri­sis is a one-off lo­cal sit­u­a­tion ap­pears to be wish­ful think­ing.’’

Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil is re­spon­si­ble for sup­ply­ing the

re­gion with wa­ter and its staff have taken a low-key ap­proach, call­ing for re­straint with gar­den wa­ter­ing and en­forc­ing a sprin­kler re­stric­tion.

Deputy chair­woman Bar­bara Don­ald­son said the coun­cil was de­vel­op­ing more emer­gency stor­age.

‘‘The coun­cil ac­knowl­edges the re­al­ity of cli­mate change, which will re­sult in more droughts and more fre­quent in­ten­sive storms,’’ she said.

A cross-har­bour pipe­line was in the coun­cil’s long-term plan as well as a dam at Takapu Val­ley to pro­vide ex­tra stor­age.

A large- scale ir­ri­ga­tion scheme in the plan­ning for south Wairarapa could con­ceiv­ably be used for ur­ban wa­ter sup­ply in an emer­gency, she said.

Sen­tinel: Robin Westenra at the Hutt River.

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