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NZ's wettest place struggles with drought

Wednesday 6 Mar 2013 4:20 p.m.

It has a reputation as one of the wettest parts of the country, but the South Island's West Coast is parched. Last month, parts of the region received less than a third of their regular rainfall.

Farmers are running out of feed and local identities are struggling to recall when it was last so dry.

The coast has baked all summer, prompting a warning that you would never have heard from there before.

“We're just looking into whether we can be declared a drought zone,” says Katy Milne of Federated Farmers.

West Coast farmers are currently organising drought meetings.

“They've already bought in a lot of feed, burnt through their winter feed,” says Ms Milne. “Winter crops have failed. They've been eaten by bugs or completely dried off, so it's looking pretty dire, really.”

Greymouth has just had one of its driest Februarys, recording just 35mm of rain, one-third of the average. Water restrictions are in place for the area.

“This is the driest since 1966,” says Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn. “I was 11 years old in that year and I can remember that summer. I'll never forget it. But this time round it's going to surpass that. You can walk across most of our rivers at the moment.”

That wasn't the case earlier this year, when floods took out a bridge on the main highway cutting links south.

Westland dairy tankers had to make a huge diversion to help farmers then. Now the company's farmers have to deal with the opposite problem – not enough water.

“It's a very stressful time for them when they are feeding out feed reserved for winter, having to cull stock,” says Bernard May of Westland Dairy Products. “They're not alone. They need to talk to their neighbours, rural professional networks.”

Others who rely on rainwater tanks have to order in truckloads of water. One tanker driver says this summer has been especially busy.

Punakaiki motelier Cam Bates is grateful for his top-up in the driest summer he has seen.

That's set to continue with no immediate forecast of significant rain for what's now the 'Dry Old Coast'.

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