Some rural Northland families are already running out of water due to the effects of Covid-19, inadequate rainwater tanks and dilapidated guttering.
While councils are taking steps to prevent a repeat of last summer's crisis, when water supplies came close to running dry in towns such including Kaikohe and Kaitaia, the 50 per cent of Northlanders who rely on tank water remain vulnerable.
Their plight has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, as urban job losses have brought Northlanders home from Auckland and Australia. Civil Defence emergency management adviser Bill Hutchinson, based in Kaikohe, said he knew of homes that had two or three occupants before the pandemic but were now housing more than 15.
As a result their tanks were running low even before summer started.
Many rural homes also had small, ageing tanks or damaged spouting and guttering, which meant they weren't catching as much rain as they should, but the cost of repairs was out of reach.
The incident last summer that brought the problem home to Hutchinson occurred when he found an 80-year-old man filling up water bottles from a fire station tap.
The man, from a settlement south of Kaikohe, was embarrassed.
''He explained his tank had run dry, but demand for water deliveries was so high he'd have to wait weeks, and pay $900, to get his tank filled up. That was money he just didn't have,'' Hutchinson said.
Last summer school bus driver Rob Pink, who is also a Civil Defence responder in Rāwene, delivered more than 500 10-litre cartons of drinking water to rural homes around the South Hokianga town. At times his bus run doubled as a delivery service for water donated by a supermarket chain.
''I drive the bus all around there so I know all the whānau, and they were right out of water. Some of them have very small tanks from way back in the day, so they run out really quickly," he said.
While water use in Rāwene was restricted, and emergency tanks were installed near the ferry ramp, the town didn't run completely dry.
''It was the surrounding areas like Ōmanaia, Whirinaki, up Duddys Rd, all the areas that are on tank water," he added.
With a new council-built reservoir and treatment plant supplying Rāwene, he was confident the town wouldn't face water shortages this summer.
''But I think it's going to happen again in the rural areas. I've already had people asking me if I've got any water, and I know one family that's genuinely down to the last rungs in their tank. The kids can wash in the creek, but drinking water is the concern," he said.
Those worries were echoed by Northland Regional Council community resilience manager Tony Phipps when he spoke to a meeting of the region's 42 elected representatives in Dargaville last month.
Water poverty, especially in areas without public water supplies, was challenging Northland's ability to handle future droughts, he said, many households having old, inadequate, poor condition water infrastructure with insufficient storage volume and no water treatment.
It was a human rights issue, he said. Water poverty challenged Northlanders' right to have enough water for basic hygiene and do things like grow vegetables for healthy eating.
Last summer's drought had also highlighted health risks from households' poor water infrastructure.
Half of Northlanders didn't get their water via piped council water supplies. That figure rose to 70 per cent in the Kaipara. It was even higher for the region's almost 180 marae, Phipps saying 97 per cent weren't connected to public water schemes.
Nationally only about 15 per cent of households were not on council water supplies.
The average New Zealand household used about 180 litres of water per person per day, but Northlanders on tank water had just 40-50 litres a day during drought.
The problem was amplified in Northland by its older, smaller houses with small water tanks. A typical 120sq m home with a small tank would need water deliveries even in an average summer.
The affordability of tanker-delivered water was also a problem for many households.
Phipps said solutions such as community bores, water tanks and water treatment were being investigated for communities such as Te Hapua and Te Kao. Government agencies, councils and iwi were also considering setting up a Te Tai Tokerau Water Resilience Working Group.
While Pink said he'd never seen the creeks around Rāwene so low so early in the summer, Phipps had some reassurance for Northlanders worried about a repeat of last summer's drought. Forecast La Nina conditions meant the region could look forward to average summer rainfall on the back of heavy July rain, which had topped up natural water supplies.
Rivers were well above problem levels, and groundwater levels were close to average. A dry September had made people nervous, but October and November rainfall had been good.
There would be spells without rain this summer, but overall rainfall was expected to be normal, he said.