Long-time fisherman Michael Vetters has noticed a lot of changes in the Mataura River since he began fishing.
“I’ve been fishing the river since I was 8 years old, and I’m 43 now,” he said.
There were a lot of factors contributing to low flow levels, he said.
There used to be a lot of small streams that drained into the river, but a lot had been tiled now.
Previously the water from the little streams seeped into the aquifers and provided one source of recharging, he said.
Now the tiles speed up the delivery of the water to the river and it was swept away quickly.
In the past there would be low flow levels in the Mataura River from mid-December through to May, but now low levels prevailed from September, he said.
“The river is a lot lower than it has ever been,” Mr Vetters said.
He believes the removal of trees on river banks has also contributed by speeding up the passage of water down the river.
The volumes of water being drawn by ventures such as farming had also played a part, he said.
Stock drinking water – particularly for cows – meant water drawing from the river could be substantial when added to the amount of water needed for irrigation, Mr Vetters said.
Gore district deputy mayor and dairy farmer Cliff Bolger said the low water levels in Cooper’s Wells were caused by low rainfall during the winter, which followed a very dry summer.
Mr Bolger did not think field tiles, which drained water to the river, would have any effect on the receding well levels.
“It’s all to do with rainfall and lack of recharge – you’ve got to remember we are on the back of a really dry year last year,” Mr Bolger said.
The whole region was feeling the effects of low rainfall, he said.
He pointed to Edendale aquifers as an example of another area grappling with the lack of water.
There was no pasture irrigation during winter, and therefore it was not an issue, he said.
The majority of dairy farmers were not milking cows during winter, so that also minimised the amount of water each farming operation needed, he said.
Gore district councillor Ralph Beale believed the district had to follow its Australian cousins and install rainwater storage tanks sooner rather than later.
“Several Australian states have mandatory rainwater capture, particularly on new house builds,” Cr Beale said.
“We need to seriously consider the same,” he said.
Residents were passionate gardeners and some basic water storage would save their gardens over a dry summer with water restrictions, he said.
“The simple fact is if we have a dry winter like last year and again this year, the aquifers do not recharge enough to supply us through the summer – there is no silver bullet to solve a climatic problem.”