27 Mar 2015

Dam users may get last irrigation chance

7:23 am on 27 March 2015

Drought afflicted farmers in South Canterbury who depend on the Opuha dam for irrigation may get the chance to turn the sprinklers on again briefly, before the winter sets in - but only if there's more rain.

Opuha Dam, Canterbury, 25 February 2015

Opuha Dam Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The dam was closed for irrigation a month ago after almost running dry.

Water is flowing into the dam again as a result of rain in the foot-hills replenishing local rivers.

Opuha water company chief executive Tony McCormick said the dam was still only about three to four percent full.

But he said it was hoping that with further rain, there might be enough to allow a further round of irrigation while there was still time for it to do some good.

However, Mr McCormick said it would be a balancing act.

"We've identified that a level of about 8 or 9 percent in the lake would enable us to irrigate for eight to 10 days, probably on a 50 percent regime, which we think would be sufficient to just get the crops one more dose of moisture, get it out before the temperatures drop off and hopefully get them set up heading into winter.

"So, rather than just box everything up and say, 'that's it', we are genuinely trying to get another round of irrigation, even though it's likely to put a dent in the lake."

That will be too late for some dairy farmers who have been forced to dry off their cows early because of the drought.

But the increase in river flows has already allowed some farmers above the dam to resume limited irrigation.