Rawene Hospital is preparing for the possibility of the town's water supply running dry as rain continues to avoid the parched west coast. Rawene's town supply depends on the Petaka Stream which has not seen any significant rain this year.

The Far North District Council has imposed strict water conservation rules to stave off a crisis.

Hopes are pinned on a front due to reach Northland tomorrow, though forecasters expect most of its rain to fall in the east.

Hokianga Health chief executive John Wigglesworth said Rawene's hospital had contingency plans in place. One of its three rainwater tanks was reserved for the sprinkler system but the other two could serve as a back-up water supply.

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Under normal conditions they contained enough water to last three days but with the conservation measures already in force they could be made to last up to five days. If the tanks ran dry water would be trucked in from Kaikohe, though that would cost money.

Conservation measures at the hospital included fewer and shorter showers, no hoses and no dishwashers.

Hokianga Health was discussing its plans and public health concerns, such as the availability of drinking water and sanitation, with the council. A meeting was due to take place last night.

Council spokesman Richard Edmondson said Rawene's water supply was still coping. In recent days consumption had dropped to about 200 cubic metres per day, which was thought to be sustainable in the short term. Consumption had dropped from an average of 230cu m a day at the start of the month. The council was committed to maintaining a basic water supply for Rawene, even if it meant trucking water in from other sources.

If the stream dropped any lower the next step would be to tighten water restrictions progressively until the supply could be used for drinking water only.

That was unlikely because of the forecast rain and because tankers would be used to top up the supply. Meanwhile, Rawene residents are calling for a more reliable water supply than the drought-sensitive Petaka Stream.

A public meeting last week called on the council to use bores instead but Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board chairman John Schollum said the council had been unable to find a bore site able to supply sufficient water despite investigating for a number of years.

Others have called for homes in South Hokianga to have mandatory rainwater tanks as a back-up.

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