South Canterbury could be heading for big dry

South Canterbury is on track to have its driest November for at least 20 years - and if it continues farmers should brace themselves for irrigation restrictions heading into summer, says E-Can Councillor Tom Lambie. 

Usually the rain gauge at Timaru's airport recorded an average of 53.2mm of rain in November, but so far this year only 8.2mm had fallen, according to Metservice. 

Meteorologist Lisa Murray said the lack of rainfall so far this month suggested this November was one of the driest, and it might be "record-breaking". 

The lowest rainfall in recent times was way back in 1997, when Timaru had about 17.2mm of rain during the month, Murray said. 

In September it was "tracking quite wet", with high rainfall causing problems for farmers in the area. 

"It went from that into October, which sort of dried up everything very quickly, so then they had to go from one extreme to another," Murray said. 

ECan South Canterbury councillor Tom Lambie said the region was fortunate to have had such a rainy winter.

The Opuha Dam was full and things were looking good as far as maintaining minimum flows on the Opihi River were concerned. 

However if the dry weather continued, South Canterbury farmers should be prepared for irrigation restrictions, he said. 

"If it stays dry there will be irrigation restrictions kicking in on those rivers. 

"That is one of the things that farmers should be looking out for. They'll be looking at putting in strategies that take advantage of the growth that we've had so far," Lambie said. 

At Lake Pukaki, 44mm of rain had been recorded this month, on November 7 and 8, Murray said. 

According to Meridian Energy the lake level is at 526 metres, above the minimum level of 518m. The lake is part of the Waitaki hydro scheme. 

However seasonal snow storage in the Waitaki catchment was below average, at only 1031 Gigawatt hours (GWh). The mean for November was 1403 GWh. 

Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Mark Adams said conditions were looking alright in South Canterbury at the moment, but some rain would be welcome. 

"It doesn't matter how much rain we have in early spring, once we get to November, December, January, February we need little and often [rainfall] for it to work. 

"We go through a six-week dry period, invariably. If it's only that then we can manage it." 

There was a cold spell about a fortnight ago which was welcome, Adams said. 

In summer farmers saw the benefits of irrigation, he said. 

"They start to get a good dividend." 

ECan groundwater science manager Carl Hanson said freshwater levels were "currently healthy".

"We will continue monitoring them to keep an eye on the effects of dry summer weather."

Timaru District Council spokesman Stephen Doran said it was too early to tell if the district council would need to implement water restrictions for residents, but the council encouraged people to use water responsibly all year round. 

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) said earlier this week it could be the driest November – and one of the driest months overall – for the area since records began in 1881. 

Niwa principal scientist Chris Brandolino told Stuff the organisation expected the long period of dry weather to continue over the weekend and into next week and even the following weekend.

"There will be some areas that get a few showers and maybe even the odd downpour here and there but nothing widespread and meaningful will fall across New Zealand over the next 10 to 14 days."

As a result, the soil across the country would get drier and could become an issue for the agricultural sector, he said.