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The Day the Sky Turned Red

This page contains an opinion-piece by Mayor Sheryl Mai about red skies in New Zealand, early 2020.
Updated: 20/01/2020 1:30 p.m.
Picture of Mayor Sheryl Mai.
​Mayor Sheryl Mai

​Where were you the day our skies turned red? On Sunday the 5th January, we received a stark reminder of how closely linked we are to our Australian neighbours.

I was enjoying time at the Quarry Arts Centre that afternoon, when we noticed a change in the quality of light. It was bizarre being able to look directly at the sun and it was unsettling to realise what was causing the red haze.

Australia’s plight may have seemed far from our shores, but this physical manifestation certainly brought the reality home. We are all intertwined, our global resources, weather patterns and of course the impact of climate change.

Our season for bush and scrub fires has only just begun, so it is an apt topic to discuss in my first column for 2020, and ties in closely with water management in our District.

At the time I put pen to paper, water levels were sitting at 76% for Wilsons Dam and 83% for Whau Valley Dam. While it’s tempting to interpret these numbers as positive for this time of the year, the reality is that our dry season has not yet truly kicked in.

Teams from Whangarei District Council are in discussions with other Northland Councils on how best to manage what could be one of the hottest, driest summers on record.

Photo of a dark red sky over a Whangarei dairy. Image by Raymond Poultney. We all need to be on board with the situation, as it will impact every resident in some way. Even those who have bores or springs on their land need to be cautious with their usage. At this point we are asking all households to be thoughtful with their water use.

In our house, we make an effort to reuse our washing water for our garden, we use our taps as little as possible, and we regularly check our property for waterpipe leaks.

Be Water Wise is the best online resource to find out our District’s current water levels, and to learn tips and tricks for reducing your household water consumption. What water conservation measures do you use in your household?

Be Water Wise

Early prevention and preparedness is always better than dealing with consequences. Water is precious, sources are finite, weather patterns are changing and the fire risk is ever increasing.

On Wednesday we had a brief respite from the dry conditions with some welcome rain – unfortunately (at the time of writing) not significant enough to impact our dam levels. We all need to keep using our water sensibly, to ensure supplies last the distance.

Water conservation will take a true community effort, and it is my hope that the red sky can serve as a reminder and a warning. It’s important that we work together to get through the dry season safely.



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