Kaikohe residents and businesses are bracing for the "harsh" reality of queuing up to collect water from emergency tanks as the town's water supply runs dry.
The Far North District Council yesterday announced drastic measures to cut water consumption, imposing level 4 restrictions and installing three 30,000-litre water tanks which residents will have to collect water from if the town's water supply is shut down.
The council also introduced level 4 restrictions in Kaitaia from today and is looking at level 4 restrictions in Rawene-Omanaia "in the near future" as the dry, hot summer continues.
Many Kaikohe residents spoken to by the Northern Advocate say they've been left in the dark about the looming water crisis, which the council has admitted could be even worse next summer.
Council infrastructure and asset general manager Andy Finch said imposing level 4 restrictions reflects just how critical the water situation now is for Kaikohe.
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"We have already breached minimum water flow levels set by Northland Regional Council at the Wairoro Stream, our primary raw water source for Kaikohe," he said.
"We have also reached limits for the Monument Hill aquifer. Without substantial rainfall over coming weeks, we face the very real prospect of Kaikohe's water running out."
The level 4 restrictions – the highest that can be imposed – mean all outdoor water use is now banned and water can only be used for essential drinking, cooking and washing.
The tanks were installed by Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group in the former RSA carpark on Broadway and will initially be filled with water trucked in from Moerewa using a Fonterra milk tanker.
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"These tanks will provide Kaikohe residents and businesses with water if we need to reduce water pressure or shut down the existing supply. If that happens, we will be asking residents to collect water from the emergency water tanks to use at home."
Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward Councillor Kelly Stratford first informed residents of the situation in response to outrage on social media after residents spotted the tanks and questioned what they were for.
That was several hours before council issued a press release.
"We have experienced a record dry year," Stratford said.
"We are preparing for if we get to the point where people will have to come and get water from a collection point in some places in the district. It is a very serious situation."
Kaikohe resident and Kaumātua Fred Sadler said the council should have alerted residents to the seriousness of the situation earlier.
He wondered how families would bathe their children and wash their clothes and how the water would be distributed.
"They need to answer these questions," he said.
"Do I just take a bucket up there? It's ridiculous. Maybe we'll have to go back to the long-drop."
Resident Anna Dalton said there was "no way" Kaikohe should be running out of water.
"It's a bit harsh. We're in the 21st century. Kaikohe has got two huge aquifers... we should never run out of water."
Kaikohe Business Association chairman Mike Kanji said the association had a meeting on Monday and "everybody was not happy" about the water situation.
Kanji knew nothing about the back-up water tanks and said the group had asked council for more information.
"It's going to affect the childcare centres, schools, retirees, the prison, restaurants... everybody is going to be affected if they turn the taps off."
Finch said council planned to visit all households and businesses "so there is awareness of the situation and will keep people updated via our website, Facebook pages and our 24-hour contact centre".
Normally the town gets 70 per cent of its water from the Wairoro Stream and 30 per cent from a bore at Monument Hill.
Finch said council has asked the NRC to allow more groundwater to be taken from the Monument Hill site.
But this would be a stop-gap measure, as extra water taken now would increase the time needed for the aquifer to replenish over winter.
"This could lead to even more serious shortages next summer."
Finch said details of exactly how water will be distributed are still being worked through.
There is still an opportunity to avoid lining up for water if Kaikohe businesses and residents significantly reduce water consumption, he said.
This can be done by flushing less often, only washing clothes on a full load, turning off the tap while brushing teeth or washing hands and fixing leaking taps, toilets and other fittings.
Level 4 restrictions already apply in Dargaville and Baylys Beach and there are level 3 restrictions - banning hoses, sprinklers, water blasting and filling swimming pools - in place in Paihia-Waitangi-Opua, Opononi-Omapere and Kawakawa-Moerewa.
The bottled water shelves at Kaikohe New World were mostly empty when the Advocate dropped in yesterday.
New World owner operator Darren Huston said it was hard to tell if more bottled water was being sold because of the looming water cuts or because of the hot weather generally.
The supermarket has put up a council sign near the entrance urging residents to save water, he said.