Living on a farm is great – wide open views, plenty of space, fresh air (unless our neighbour has just spread slurry on his roll-on lawn growing operation) and wonderful tasting, unchlorinated water fresh from our own borehole… that is as long as said borehole is functioning as it should. The trouble with boreholes is that they depend on electric pumps. And pumps that spend all day below ground sending water up to fill our tanks, eventually get fed up. And go on strike. They clog up. They blow a fuse. They just wear out now and again, exhausted by the task set them by these demanding farm dwellers.
At regular intervals, usually on a weekend, we find ourselves turning to our rain tanks for our washing water. Our friendly electrician and pump expert is happy to come out at short notice, but not on a Sunday and that is usually when the pump decides to give up the ghost.
So yesterday unshowered and dirty haired, I removed the dirty dishes from the dishwasher where they’d just made it through the pre-wash, hand-washed them in our carefully collected rain water, boiling kettles for hot water, and admiring the lather you get from such soft water. We had guests to a braai for lunch, so there were plenty more dishes to process that evening and another chance to reacquaint myself with the time honoured hand washing method, with buckets of water carried from the tank and every drop counted.
It really makes you think about water more carefully when you don’t have it on tap. The rinsing water got put back into the bucket to flush the loos with. My practical husband managed to link our rainwater tank into the main house pipes, so we did now have a trickle of water into the system, which made all the difference, but we were still very conscious of how long that one tank might last. We managed a (very) shallow bath this morning but left the water in for loo-flushing later.
The electrican showed up half way through this morning. His first report sounded grim. It looked as though the first borehole had run dry. My husband departed to consult and assess the damage with him, so I was left trying to carry on with the editing job I was working on, while emergency measures surged through my brain. He had said that sometimes underground water streams can collapse in on themselves, especially if someone else drills a bad borehole further upstream.
How could we survive on the farm if our underground stream gave up flowing…. I started to dream up elaborate water catchment systems to store our winter rainfall, a huge underground cistern, with an overflow to a dam. Water rationing would have to become second nature, the washing machine water would have to empty into big tubs to be re-used for toilet flushing. But would there be enough water pressure to run a washing machine? Our drinking water would have to be collected from a neighbour’s farm in big containers every few days.
Luckily my husband only left me in suspense with this vision of a post-apocalyptic survival scenario for an hour or so, before coming back to say they’d found and fixed a couple of problems with valves and fuses, there was water in the borehole and they just had to locate a leak in the pipe before switching us back on to the supply. A gust of relief as our lives returned to normal once more.
But each time the pump malfunctions, it is a salutary reminder of how dependant we all are on water. Without a supply of clean water it is impossible to keep on living in a place. That underground rainwater cistern is sounding like a really good idea!