The Northland Regional Council has laid down the law with Far North District Council over its continued taking of water for Kaitaia from the rapidly falling Awanui River.

The district council imposed Level 3 water restrictions on the town on January 16, prohibiting the use of hoses, well after the river's flow fell beneath the minimum allowed by the regional council's consent.

Last week NRC gave the council until Friday to reduce consumption in the town by 25 per cent, failing which it was instructed to impose Level 4 restrictions.

That would prohibit all outdoor use of water.

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The only permitted uses would be drinking, cooking and washing.

At worst the dwindling supply raises the prospect of water for the most basic needs being delivered by tankers parked in the streets, although where that water would come from is unclear.

Level 4 restrictions are already in place in Dargaville and at Baylys Beach. Level 3 restrictions are currently in effect in Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa-Moerewa, Ōkaihau, Ōpononi-Ōmapere, Kerikeri-Waipapa, Mangawhai and Ruawai, and were imposed in Opua-Paihia-Waitangi and Rawene-Ōmanaia on Thursday (story page 4).

NRC wrote to the district council on January 24, stating that it could continue taking water from the Awanui River only if householders, and town's five biggest water users, cut consumption by at least 25 per cent by January 31.

Regulatory manager Colin Dall also ordered the council to check the entire Kaitaia water supply network for leaks and repair them by this Friday. It wanted to know how long repairs took to complete, a report on the number of restriction breaches, and enforcement actions taken in response to those breaches.

The council also has until Friday to come up with an emergency plan in case the river fell to the point where it could no longer meet basic health and sanitation needs, and for those who might no longer be able to take potable water downstream from where Kaitaia's supply is extracted.

Northland DHB is already taking water-saving measures. Chief operating officer Paul Welford said last week that the council and Civil Defence had been given the addresses and water requirements of patients who were undertaking dialysis at home so that they can be catered for as priority sites for water.

Kaitaia and Bay of Islands hospitals had already reduced consumption, including by not washing fleet cars, while other measures that could be considered included using alcohol-based sanitiser instead of water for washing.

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Fire and Emergency NZ is also concerned about the availability of water for fighting fires, and further depleting the town's supply.

The council is already preparing for the possibility of stationing water tankers in the streets in Kaikohe, where the situation is also becoming critical. The town takes 70 per cent of its water from the Wairoro Stream, and the remainder from a bore at Monument Hill, both of which have fallen to near-critical levels. Level 4 restrictions are expected to be imposed there at some point this week.

Bulk water tankers that previously took water from Kaikohe are now being directed to Kawakawa, Kerikeri and Paihia. Tankers are still filling up from the public supply in Kaitaia.