A ban on all water use except for drinking, cooking and essential hygiene has been imposed in the Kaipara and could follow within days in drought-hit Far North towns.
The crisis is especially dire in Kaitaia, where the Awanui River is nearing the lowest level at which the council can take water.
The Advocate has obtained a letter from the Northland Regional Council (NRC) ordering the Far North District Council (FNDC) to impose level 4 restrictions, the strictest possible, in Kaitaia unless the town cuts water use by 25 per cent by tomorrow.
Northland water restrictions
■ Essential cooking, drinking and hygiene only.
■ Applies in Dargaville, Baylys Beach.
■ No watering gardens or lawns with hoses or sprinklers; no washing vehicles except with buckets; no washing buildings or paved areas; no filling swimming pools.
■ Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa-Moerewa, Ōpononi-Ōmapere, Mangawhai, Ruawai.
■ No unattended hoses, sprinklers or irrigation systems. Hand-held hoses allowed.
■ Kerikeri-Waipapa, Ōpua-Paihia-Waitangi, Ōkaihau, Rawene-Ōmanaia.
The letter was sent on January 24 but as of yesterday water restrictions in the town remained at level 3 and the FNDC had been unable to persuade Kaitaia residents to cut water to any significant degree.
Figures show Kaitaia water use went up by 4 per cent in mid-January before dropping by just 1 per cent last week.
Under level 3 restrictions hoses and sprinklers are banned along with washing vehicles and filling swimming pools.
Level 4 restrictions ban all water use apart from essential drinking, cooking and hygiene.
The leaked letter from the NRC, which is responsible for the region's waterways, says the FNDC can keep taking water from the Awanui River only if Kaitaia's five biggest water users cut consumption by at least 25 per cent. Households also have to cut water use by a quarter.
The NRC also limited the water take from the Awanui River to 3000cu m a day and ordered the FNDC to check the entire Kaitaia water supply network for leaks, and repair them, by February 7.
The FNDC was also ordered to come up with an emergency plan in case water from the Awanui River was insufficient to meet basic health and sanitation needs.
• Water restrictions Far North-wide as drought looms
• Northland's water storage potential explored
• Northland gains average mark in national water test - but results not good all-round
• Next step for Far North water project
The situation is understood to have set alarm bells ringing at the Northland District Health Board (NDHB), because patients on life-saving home dialysis require large volumes of water, and at Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) about the availability of town water for fighting fires.
The water shortage is also becoming critical in Kaikohe, where the district council is preparing for the possibility of stationing water tankers in the streets.
Normally the town gets 70 per cent of its water from the Wairoro Stream and 30 per cent from a bore at Monument Hill, but both have fallen to near-critical levels.
FNDC infrastructure manager Andy Finch wouldn't be interviewed but did provide a written statement, saying level 4 water restrictions would start in Kaikohe next week and would also be imposed in Kaitaia if a 25 per cent drop in water use was not reached by tomorrow.
The FNDC was planning for water tankers to supply treated water to residents if required.
It was likely milk tankers would be used because they had greater capacity and met hygiene rules.
While Kaitaia residents had made minimal savings other towns had succeeded in cutting water use, such as Ōkaihau (down 28 per cent), Rawene (17 per cent) and Kerikeri (10 per cent).
Bulk water tankers had been stopped from filling up at Kaikohe and were being directed to Kawakawa, Kerikeri and Paihia instead.
Tankers were still filling up from Kaitaia's town supply because there were no other options in the Te Hiku area.
Yesterday the Kaipara District Council moved to impose level 4 restrictions on all households and businesses connected to its Dargaville and Baylys Beach water supplies, citing one of the driest 12-month periods on record and low levels in the Kaihu River.
In the Far North, however, council communication about the crisis has been low-key and sporadic. The FNDC Facebook page, for example, is dominated by an internet speed survey.
The one notable initiative so far has been an offer to fix people's leaky plumbing for free in Kaikohe.
Finch did give a candid interview with Te Hiku Media in which he reiterated his call for all Far North residents, on town supply and tanks, to reduce water use by 25 per cent.
''That may not get us out of the hole we're facing a the moment but it will potentially delay the worst possible outcome, which is water tankers in the street.''
He said the FNDC was looking at ways of supplementing Kaitaia's supply — understood to mean drawing from the Aupōuri aquifer — but that could be 8-10 weeks away.
In Kaikohe the council was struggling to find any alternative supply, he said.
The NDHB said eight patients in Kaitaia and the Mid North used home-based dialysis and would be given priority for water.