24 March, 2013

The big dry

New Zealand is currently in the middle of a drought, probably the worst for the last 70 years.  Wellington, where I live, is subject to water restrictions.  The local Hutt River – where a lot of our drinking water is drawn from -  is down to about 25% of its usual flow.  We had some rain for a day or two last week, but it wasn’t enough.  In fact, it just washed the dust off the land and into the water sources, making our drinking water resources more scarce.  One of the huge reservoirs to the north of the city is sitting empty.  It is – like so much of our infrastructure since Christchurch crumbled in 2011 - undergoing earthquake strengthening.  So our water is limited.  There is a total ban on outdoor water use, and a request for every household to save water. 

This is unusual in New Zealand, perhaps particularly so in Wellington, we where usually have an abundance of water.  We live our lives seeing our neighbours in Australia suffering droughts of enormous magnitude and regularity.  We visit their land (and others) and see rivers full of brown silt, slow-moving and ugly, compared to the clean, blue, often glacier-fed rushing rivers that criss-cross our lucky country, that irrigate our lands and fill our glasses and power our electricity.  And we feel rather smug in comparison.

So this morning, as I had a much shorter shower than usual, and I contemplated whether I should do a load of washing, and congratulated myself for not having a browning, thirsty lawn, I also thought about those with kids, and perhaps how much harder it would be for them to reduce their water usage.  Then, as my thoughts often turn, I thought of those with a lot of kids, and I felt a little “holier-than-thou.”  Because regardless of what I do, my impact on our water usage is minimal in comparison to another adult who has children, whether it be two, or six.  And yes, I felt a little smug.


  1. Ahhhh...this water trouble reminds me a lot of our problem in Bandung, my hometown. I remember one time we had to BUY water from some agents 'coz the there was absolutely no water coming from the tap. I remember that we even paid a lot of money to have a well drilled up in our small yard (the yard was only about 4x4 metres. I remember showering using very little amount of water 'coz we had grandma, my parents, me and my bro in the household and my Mom sold food that she cooked herself in a local traditional market (so she needed water for that, too!).

    I hope that your water problem is solved sooner than later 'coz it can get pretty crazy for many people without water for a long time. But I also understand the smugness. :-)

    Here in Sodankylä I "almost forget" our water trouble back in Bandung, 'coz there are more trees and forest here compared to the number of inhabitants.

  2. We are in a long term drought here too, not many acknowledge it and it drives me nuts!!
    I too get smug when I look at my dusty car, or think about how we only do laundry once a week...the lady across from me has triplets and she is constantly using water.
    Feel smug freely, we are indeed making a smaller carbon footprint.

  3. Last summer, we had a very bad drought. Every time the skies would darken, it was hit or miss as if the thunderstorm would be over your house/rain barrels/garden. Coming into Springtime, I can only hope this year is better.

    We consider ourselves environmentalists to some degree - but not extremists. We have rain barrels, we plant native plants, we have compost bins, we ride our bikes to work when we can. One of my goals since New Years 2012 is NO NEW PLASTIC BAGS. And I have been succeeding easily. But it saddens me to see the families go into the local grocery store and buy 2x as much as I, and then fill up the plastic. Grrrr...

  4. I watch the extreme weather the world over and all the adjustments and wonder if this is simply the beginning of the new normal. Will tales of jumping in the sprinklers as a kid become the stuff of legend?

    1. Pamela, it's hard to know if NZ will ever be like that. After all, we had a very learned and rather stuffy Prime Minister about 20 years ago who once said "New Zealand is a rather pluvial country." !!!

      But yes - even the notoriously wet West Coast of the South Island has been declared a drought area. Of course, what we call a drought, Australian's probably call "a normal year."