Pipe Dreams: Part One
Our drinking and stock water supply used to come from a bit downstream of where the Opuha Dam is now. After the dam was built, the silt build-up around the intake got so bad that a new site had to be found.
The dam was completed in 1998, and as you might expect, the lake that took shape behind it was christened ‘Lake Opuha’. It’s a man-made reservoir lake that’s primarily fed by the North and South branches of the Opuha River.
It was another four or five years before the intake was moved way upstream of the lake. Meanwhile, those of us on the Allandale Rural Water Supply Scheme suffered the consequences. The Allandale area being a rural plain of 15,000 hectares north of the Fairlie township.
15,000 litre concrete water tank – domestic supply
We ran out of water during that time; the water tanker came up in a dry summer and filled our empty 15,000 litre house supply tank. The feed from the Scheme that went straight into our other tank, a 25,000 litre tank over a hundred metres up from us on the slope of Mt Michael, had started to trickle in again by then, so mercifully, we only made that one call to Council to get the tanker in.
And during that time, all four of us got a bad dose of the notifiable disease, cryptosporidium. Not that we can track it back to any one cause.
Crypto and the tank running dry taught us some invaluable lessons. Even though we’d been on ten acres of farmland for a decade, we still had somewhat of a ‘townie’ headspace when it came to water and animal excrement.
‘Town supply’ meant we took for granted clean water on tap. There was never any rationing or even a hint that water was in short supply in the towns we lived in back then.
‘Animal dung free zone’ meant that we could deal with the nose wrinkle-and-twitch of green sloppy shit from a scouring sheep, wash our hands as usual and go on to prepare homegrown greens for a salad; greens in a zone (we thought, or more in the absence of), as free of biological warfare agents as anything you’d buy in a supermarket.
I’m not saying for sure we got crypto from sheep shit. Or from water we were getting at that transition time, when it still came from the intake below the new dam. Or a tank running on empty: a skim of water above slimy, calf-deep sludge. That gunk was an eye opener – and a nose opener; and a shoo-in for a gumboots and rubber gloves dredge and clean.
The Scheme, operational since 1966, a good indicator that the tank had been storing water from the Allandale supply since the mid-to-late 1960s. That much muck, you’d have to wonder whether I was the first to climb in there with a short-handled shovel, bucket and scrubbing brush.
I’d taken as a given that potable water was stored in forever clean tanks and piped to our taps ready to drink. A New Zealand townie pre: Christchurch earthquake water woes; Havelock North E. coli contaminations; a focus on high nitrate concentrations in artesian wells and polluted rivers and lakes. Nowadays, with the opening of the Pandora’s Box labelled ‘Water’, we’re aware of, but find it impossible to comprehend, the scale and complexity of the ‘Water’ problem.
Of course, we all comprehend that water is the world’s most valuable resource. It’s knowing what to do about that drastically compromised resource that’s the problem! At least Kiwis worth emulating, although living in a water-rich land, don’t take it for granted anymore. Perhaps we should call the rest of them ‘Ostriches’ – head in the sand?
The dodgy supply, the empty tank and its contents, the crypto – they ganged up to get us to pay attention to the quality of our own water.
under bench filter
Sludge, chlorinated river water, and a couple of weeks of having our stomachs chewed out from the inside by lots of very nasty little parasites, combined to convince us that an efficient water filter would be a very good idea. It removes chlorine, heavy metals, and parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia. Now, we never drink water straight from our taps.
And we were ahead of the curve, close to two decades before ubiquitous Covid instructions and reminders about hand washing. Complete with nail brush to get under the fingernails and to scrub hands free of grime. We’d like crypto to remain a once in a lifetime experience.
You’d have to say though, all things considered, that as a result of the experiences we went through back then, we got the necessary ‘wake-up call’. And it’s a privilege to belong to a water scheme that provides us with a reliable supply of drinking water for ourselves and our stock.
There are farmers (getting on in years now), in the Allandale area, who will proudly show you a tank full of rainwater collected from a roof. They remember only too well what it was like to rely, in a district with a low annual rainfall, on that supply for the house, and on ponds and small man-made reservoirs for stock water. All will have stories of farmers who walked off the land in a big dry.
Water, since the early 2000s, has been piped from the South Opuha river from an intake a long way upstream of the dam, and I suspect the Allandale Scheme is now more reliable and the water of better quality than when it was set up in 1966.
Allandale Rural Water Supply Scheme – property number T502A – our 25,000 litre fibreglass tank
As for us, it drips into our top tank through a ballcock fitted with a restrictor valve that limits the amount we get in any twenty-four hour period to 2000 litres. That’s the ‘one unit’ of water we pay for as part of our rates bill.
Our water’s gravity fed, and the pipe that branches off the main pipeline that comes down the hill from the top tank, takes water to the troughs, and its T-junction connection is placed ahead of the main pipe’s feed into the bottom tank; that way a paddock leak won’t drain the tank storing our domestic supply!
According to Council records, the length of pipe used comes to a grand total of 88,045 metres. That’s a lot of pipe! An extension of 250 metres to get water on tap down at the billy goat’s shelter shouldn’t be a big deal then? Well, it is a big deal to June! She says she’ll be quite happy not to have to carry a couple of buckets of water down there anymore.
Our pipe channel had to go places a tractor and mole plough couldn’t get to, and that turned out to be quite a big deal too – using spade, crowbar, axe, and garden trowel.
It’s a pipe dream -will be till we get the final 100 metres completed. Will put this, Allandale’s latest little water scheme, on record next Monday.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Next Monday: Pipe Dreams: Part Two.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.