The (Water) Main Event

I was attempting to bush my teeth on Monday night, just be before retiring for the evening, and I went to fill up my little cup for the thrilling event. The water began to rise in the cup, oh so slowly, and then stopped all by itself. Now, I don’t have automatic taps, so my first instinct was to check another tap, this time in the kitchen. Alas, no water.

I then announced to those members of the family who were still awake, that we had lost mains water pressure. Kim and I, with dynamo torch in hand, proceeded to the front yard to check if some larikin had turned off our main water valve on the water meter. Upon testing, it was found to be open all the way, so that wasn’t the cause of the problem.

It was just then we noticed that there was a truck with its lights on, just on the other side of the road, with a few blokes making murmuring noises and swearing a lot. I managed to attract one of the guys attention, and he yelled out in a slow country drawl, ‘Is your water out?’, to which I replied, ‘Yes, we have just lost mains pressure’. ‘The water main has burst, so we turned of the mains valves either side. We will have it fixed soon!’, Mr Water Man replied.

Well, that solved the mystery, and also explained all of the water on the road. So, Western Water were on the job in a flash, which was great news, but how was I to get my cup of water to brush my fuzzy teeth?

I knew that we had a 2 litre jug of water in the fridge, but it was only half full, so that would not be enough for everyone. We still didn’t know how long Mr Western Water would take to fix the mains, so I began to take stock of the situation. A life giving resource that we use about 300 litres of each day had just been denied us. Luckily, I had planned ahead in case of such an event!

Regular readers would know that I have a small rainwater tank between the vegie-patch and swimming pool, which has a holding capacity of 2300 litres. It is full at the moment due to a few decent down pours of late. Kim and I took two 10 litre cooking pots from the kitchen and proceeded to the very dark back yard, again with the torch in hand. Kim held the torch and I managed to get water all over my feet. Kim was more interested in where the dog was than she was about my pouring accuracy! After some brief, but effective psychological re-adjustment (I swore), we got back on track to filling up the pots. Five minutes later, we were back inside with the pots on the stovetop.

Just to be safe, I filled up the kettle and boiled some of the rainwater for 5 minutes to make sure that I killed off any bacteria. I usually drink straight from the tank with no ill effects, but then again, I have a cast iron constitution from 20 years of eating Navy food! With the water cooled down, we had about 2 litres of sanitised water that everyone could use before going to bed. There was still 18 litres available in the pots ready for the morning, if the water mains were still under repair. I am glad I only had to lug the water about 50 metres, unlike many people around the world who have to walk many hours to get their daily water, many only carrying 20 litres per trip. This 20 litres would have to last a family for the entire day. Hats off to those of you who have this daily task, but then, if push came to shove, we would all have to adapt to whatever circumstances were thrust upon us.

We all went to bed at about Midnight, safe in the knowledge that we still had about 3 weeks of fresh water, only if we conserved it wisely. The following questions started going through my mind as I was drifting off to a restless slumber. What if Melbourne ran out of water? What would people start behaving like if the city and surrounding suburbs ran lower than 10% reserve? How would I protect the water I had? (crazy talk started going through my mind at this stage). What if the tank had been dry? How long would we be without mains water pressure? What is that Elephant doing in the middle of my bedroom?

Then I started to think of simple solutions for my current situation. I knew we had 20 litres of bottled water in the stockpile cupboard, just in case the rainwater was contaminated, but that would last a day or two at the most. Without a secure water supply, we were stuffed as a community, and I began to think that anarchy would break loose around here if the water supply ran dry for long. I then drifted into a very uncomfortable sleep.

About 2 hours, I awoke to the sound of the toilet cistern filling up. Yippee, the mains were back on and all fixed. Mr Western Water had worked very hard through the night and had fixed the water main in a record breaking time of 4 hours. Great work fellas, I thought as I drifted back into a more peaceful slumber, with all of my unanswered question fading away.

It has taken me two days of pondering to come up with some real solutions. After consulting with Kim, we decided that one of our next priorities was to purchase another rainwater tank of similar capacity to the one we had. As for the 50,000 litres of slightly salty water in the swimming pool, I would have to find a simple method of desalinating it so that it was fit for consumption. A Solar Still would be the easiest device to make. I have a piece of perspex in the shed ideal for this purpose. I will look for designs on the net over the next few days for something easy to bang together. I figure that on a sunny day, a still should give us about 8-10 litres of fresh water per day, and it would only be used if the tanks ran dry. Lets hope it rains often so that it never gets to that stage. Bathing would have to be reduced to a top and tail wash every few days for hygienic purposes, and our clothes would have to be hand washed. I would still boil water for drinking and cooking. I don’t have a current solution for toilets, but maybe a composting loo should be the order of the day. Kim wants to renovate our en suite bathroom soon, so maybe I will list it as one of the building conditions! I believe there are models that you can purchase for a house built on a concrete slab.

All things being equal, we would be fine with a little further preparation. I suppose that if we all lost mains water in this area, we would just have to adjust to the new paradigm, but I reckon there would be a lot of thirsty people in a few days. Lets hope it never gets even close to that situation because visions of Mad Max 2 keep going through my head if it did come to that! BTW, did I mention that I love my rainwater tank?


  1. says

    It’s a fascinating (scary!) thought, what if water stopped coming out our taps. I guess we would move back to my parents house (25 minute walk away) as they have 2 raintanks with a third to come. We rent and don’t have tanks but will definitely get some when we buy (hopefully next year).

    I reckon that would be great if your house gets into the open day next year!

  2. says

    Gavin, Lets put fish in the pool, to grow sell and eat.
    Then set up an aquaculture farm to purify the pool water of the fish pooh.
    Run a top up line from the overflow of the rainwater tank to the pool and between the 2 of us we should be able to work out how to purify the water from the pool back to the tank if needed.

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