Total fire ban in place to protect Dunedin’s water

Total fire ban in place to protect Dunedin’s water

20 March 2010

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New Zealand —  The temperatures are already wintry in Dunedin, but there is a total fire ban in effect.

The large Wenita Forest fire, three weeks ago, came within 5km of the reserves that supply the city’s water.

It was a timely reminder of the water catchment’s value and vulnerability.

The tussock and moss reserve 60km from Dunedin is where the region’s A-grade drinking water comes from.

“These wetlands act like a great big sponge that just slowly release the water into the water courses,” says DoC Coastal Otago Area Manager Robin Thomas.

The Department of Conservation says the 22,000ha Te Papanui conservation costs very little to look after each year, but is of huge value to the city.

Rain captured by the tussock is worth $19 million to Dunedin but because it flows freely from 1100m, thanks to gravity, to the city it is worth a lot more than that.

“The cost of getting water from other sources would be tens of millions of dollars, plus there is an ongoing operating costs to actually pump the water to the city.”

Despite being fairly cold and wet, the greater Dunedin area is still tinder dry and under a total fire ban.

Over 700ha of forestry went up in flames in late February and parts of the city’s three water catchments at Deep Creek, Deep Stream, and Te Papanui were threatened.

“The focus of the fire people was to maintain a fire break between the fire and the catchments, which we’re thankful for,’ says John Mackie of DCC Water and Waste.

“Fire through here would be a huge risk and have a huge impact, particularly on vegetation cover,” says Mr Thomas.

Any damage at altitude to the large native tussocks would take decades to recover.

Even with the rain they’re still dry and the council continues to keep a close eye on them.

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