Water Doom: The Spring Gave Out

Update: 3 May 2010

Recent rain has recharged the spring. There’s good flow into the tank and it’s 3/4 full now. Faucets, shower, etc. are working again.

The streams are still not flowing as usual, so we’re continuing to take it very carefully with water.

—End Update—

The Far North of New Zealand is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. Kaitaia, the town near us, has been running under emergency conditions for weeks. Anyone caught using a hose outside faces a NZ$20,000 fine. The local farming community is in deep trouble. The hay and silage that has been put up for winter is already being used for feed. Some beef and dairy farmers are getting ready to slaughter their herds. Soon, it will be too cold to grow much grass, even if rain comes. But there’s no meaningful rain coming anyway…

Our new kitchen faucet

We have been OK here, but after months of what might as well have been no rain, the spring finally gave out, and we used up the water that had accumulated in the tank. Technically, the spring hasn’t stopped. I’d say that about five litres trickle down to our house per day. And the cows probably drank more water than we used.

For the last two weeks, we have been living over at Becky’s parents’ house. At first, we thought that it would be easier over there with Owen, but it turned out to be pretty hard going because their place isn’t two-year-old proof. We’re back home now, but living in a quasi camping mode. Our total, usable household water supply includes two 20 litre water containers and a 200 litre rainwater barrel that’s about half full. [Update: Our friend Andrew let us borrow another 20 litre container and offered to let us fill up over at his farm.]

I’ve been giving the chooks water from the rain barrel. I’ll probably start giving the dam water to the chickens, but I read somewhere that it’s better not to give very turbid water to chickens. I don’t know if that’s true, but our dam water is very cloudy.

Rainwater barrel

I have been putting off piping water from the dam down to the troughs and garden. Well, nothing puts a bomb under your tail to complete a water infrastructure project like having cows with about a day’s worth of water remaining in their troughs. Luckily, this is a personal, local and regional collapse situation, and not a BIG biggy collapse. I was able to drive to town, in our petrol powered pickup truck/ute, and buy the NZ$550 worth of pipe and fittings that I needed to complete this project. The pipe was even on sale! HAHA. A few hours of work later and the cows had a gravity fed water supply. (Another time, I’ll write about the gravity feed system that I built. It’s working great.) At first, the cows stood by the trough and looked at me, in protest, “We want our spring water back.” But they got used to the dam water pretty fast. Bex and I are happy that we didn’t have to send our cows to the works, or give them away. I doubt that anyone would buy our cows now, since most people are facing the same situation with water.

I’m seriously thinking about buying a Big Berkey water filter, as that thing could keep us going if the drought persists. I could put our dam water through that and it would be fine. If the dam runs out (a really grim possibility) there is still plenty of water in the river below our property. It’s flowing well and the water is probably ok to drink. I just don’t like the word probably when it comes to the safety of water. We could have that water tested, but I wonder if the quality could vary over time… There are no intensive farming operations around that river. It’s just bush and several lifestylers with a few dozen cows over about five kilometres. Anyway, the Big Berkey could come in very handy if the shit really hits the fan here. The reality is that it will probably never be this dry here again in my lifetime, but there’s that word probably again…

11 Responses to “Water Doom: The Spring Gave Out”

  1. PeterNZ says:

    Hello neighbours

    just wanted to say hello. Sorry that we haven’t contacted you yet but still so much to do.

    We had the digger in because the dam and spring had about 2cm of water on top the rest was mud. We are really lucky I guess because we now have two new dams filling up and the two water tanks at the house are full. So if you want to come over for a shower, let us know! 😉 Which reminds me, there is currently a problem with the hot water to the shower. So let me rephrase that: “if you want to come over for a lukewarm shower, let us know!” 😉



  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the offer. We’ll definitely keep it it mind.

    All the best,

  3. John Darroch says:

    Hi sorry to hear about your water woes, I’m glad you have a property with a river which is still running in drought conditions. Sounds like you guys will pull through ok.

    I’m supprised that you say that it probably won’t be this dry again within your lifetime. My understanding was that the north of New Zealand could get considerably drier with globabl warming. The permaculturalists and organic farmers I have talked to in NZ are anticipating wider variations in seasonal weather conditions including longer droughts. If I was in your position I would be seeing this summer as a sign of things to come.

    Anyway good luck!

  4. PG says:

    Hi there

    Great to get an update from you guys! Your situation sounds very similar to what many of us faced in Australia. Its amazing how you can conserve water and change your lifestyle habits. I still cant get used to seeing people watering their lawns and nature strips, but then what do you expect from small minds? Anywhoo was nice to hear that you are all doing well despite the water shortage!

  5. Hi Kevin,

    Very sorry to see that you guys are in much the same boat as we are. I confess that the local drought, having resulted in total loss of all our Summer crops for two years running, has severely shaken my ideas about self-sufficiency.

    Like you, I think that rainfall will probably return to “normal” – possibly even quite soon (I hope!) But there’s the catch: What’s “normal”? I do think that our old ideas of “normal” weather are now junk, and the only thing we can really predict with confidence is more frequent extreme weather events.

    All a bit worrying, though, isn’t it. Wishing you lots of luck in coping with the dry!

  6. Johanna says:

    Hi Rebecca and Kevin. Wow. I heard about the droughts up your way, but this is the first time I’ve read a detailed first hand account. All the best with it. It sounds like you are coping with a lot of resourcefulness.

    Rebecca, I owe you a huge apology for never sending those seeds I said I was going to. Life got tricky last year!!! Sorry.

    Thinking of you, and will check back for updates.

  7. Ellen says:

    Hi, Sorry to hear of the troubles you are experiencing. I’m new to the website thinking about setting up a lifestyle farmlet. Do people put in water bores around the area? (I’m thinking of either The Coromandel area or around Warkworth). Would that help long term for water shortages or is it not possible/feasible? I’m thinking of a powerdown situation so would want it to be solar /wind backup to conventional electricity.

  8. I suggest you start taking a serious look at orgonite. we have consistently been able to avert draughts in Southern Africa. The lates one was in the Southern Cape.
    Check it out on http://www.orgoniseafrica.com

  9. west says:

    What’s the update on your water situation? did the storm top anything off for you?

  10. kristen says:

    Just wanted to weigh in on the Berkey water filter. We use one here all the time and LOVE it. Our water would be safe to drink without it, but it tastes so much better after running through our filter. I’m also comforted by the fact that when the power is out, we could dip from the ditch or pond and run it through the filter for home use. It’s great!

  11. Found the blog by accident and i’m so glad that I did. I dont think many of us in the UK have any idea of whaat you guys are facing with the water shortages. I think we waste so much here because we dont see conserving it as essential – I guess nobody does until theyre in your situation. Anyway love the blog – good luck with it all!