All eyes are on the skies – and the level of Lake Wakatipu.
As of 10.30am today, the lake was at 311.228 metres above sea level (msl) – the Otago Regional Council’s website says at 311.8msl there’s “possible” flooding in Queenstown.
Council corporate services boss Meaghan Miller says it’s still to reach its peak – that’s predicted to happen tomorrow.
“At this stage we’re not going to be in the wars, but we’re not out of the woods either.”
But, she’s calling for calm and says current forecasting shows even at that peak, Lake Wakatipu will still be about a metre off the record 1999 level.
“As the lake creeps forward it is confronting and I think people’s minds do go back to the ’99 floods.
“In ’99 we did not have the detailed scientific forecasting and modelling that we now have in place through the Otago Regional Council – and that enables us to model these events with some real confidence.”
The council’s bracing itself to see “very full lakes” and flooding of low-lying areas including Queenstown Bay, the Kingston and Glenorchy foreshores, reserves and tracks.
Miller says that may be the status quo for days, possibly weeks.
There aren’t plans yet to put wave mitigation around Lake Wakatipu, but there might be some temporary speed restrictions around the foreshore as “slop” hits the roads, to minimise damage to retail premises.
Sandbags will also likely be made available in Queenstown today for any businesses wanting to take proactive measures.
In Wanaka, 1000 sandbags were delivered on Tuesday afternoon and snapped up pretty quickly, “because people want to do something”, Miller says.
“I think that in itself makes people feel a bit anxious, because it starts to look a bit more like a war zone, but we can only go with our forecast.
“We have a huge amount of sympathy for anyone who’s having a flashback to 1999 and no doubt people are feeling concerned – and it’s even more alarming when the rain keeps falling.
“But … we have some real confidence in that modelling and we just need people to stay calm.”
Council staff are being briefed twice daily and have visited retailers in the ’99 flood zone to keep them up-to-date.
The clean-up’s also expected to be significant, but, Miller says, people need to keep it “in context”.
“As in ’99, our district will be business as usual and even down in those CBDs, just 50m from the lake’s edge, there will be businesses continuing to function as per normal.”
Meantime, Wakatipu High School spokeswoman Karla Dawson confirmed the school’s annual Branches Camp was called off yesterday afternoon – it’s just the third time in its 52-year history that’s happened.