What adventure has a drop of water taken to arrive to your tap? You might be surprised...
Water follows slightly different adventures in Hamilton, Waipa and Waikato but they all achieve the same thing - turning water from natural water supplies into top-quality water that is safe and healthy to drink.
The full story of how water gets to your tap is a long one, far too long (and probably far too confusing) to try and tell on this page. If you are really interested, you can find out more information on your Council's website.
Our water story begins in places called water catchments. Water catchments are natural areas that collect our drinking water. For us in the Waikato, our main catchment areas are Lake Taupo, Waikato River, and various other smaller streams and springs. The amount of drinking water our cities and towns have is influenced by how much water is in these areas.
In summer these are the places that we have to keep a really close eye on. Summer is a hot and dry season – and while most of us love it – it is also the time where our water supply is most at risk.
This is because in summer people generally use a lot of water – to water plants and lawns, fill up pools and to generally cool off. If demand is high and there is no rain to keep filling up the catchment area, then lake and river levels can drop – and so does the amount of water available for our towns.
Throughout the summer months, our water staff are monitoring our water use and how much water is in these catchment areas every day. When there is a long time between rain, a rain dance may be required.
The water is then pumped out of the catchment area and travels through a system of pipes until it reaches a water treatment plant. A water treatment plant’s job is to remove all of the dirt and bugs from the water so it is safe and tasty to drink.
Water treatment plants use complex scientific systems to remove all of the dirt and bugs in the water. Each plant has the same overall job but works slightly differently to get it done. A very quick summary is – the water at the Treatment Plant has to be screened, filtered and disinfected before it is ready for us to drink.
It takes around six hours for water to go through the complete treatment process, depending on the flow.
Hamilton has one big water treatment plant that processes all of the city’s water. Waikato has ten smaller plants and Waipa has another six.
Once the water is all treated and ready to drink, it is time to wave goodbye to the plant. Massive underground pipes (water mains) are used to transport the water to big water storage tanks called water reservoirs.
The job of a water reservoir is to store the water so that there is enough to use throughout the day. The busiest times for everyone using water is in the morning when people wake up and shower, and again in the evenings when people cook dinner, shower and water the garden. These times put huge pressure on the water treatment plants and sometimes it is hard for the plant to keep up with all of the water that is needed. The reservoirs allow the treatment plants to operate at a constant rate, which is the way the plants operate best.
By having water stored in the reservoir, it also means that water supply and pressure can stay the same.
The reservoirs also provide water during routine maintainence as well as in emergencies - for fire fighting or when a water main breaks.
Hamilton has eight reservoirs spotted around the city, Waikato has 31 and Waipa has 14.
When it’s time for our drinking water to be used, it’s now time to leave the reservoir. From here, it travels through another long set of underground pipes. These pipes reach houses all over the district and city. The pipes range in size from around the size of a 50 cent coin (2.5cm diameter) right up to around 75 cm wide (that's a whole heap of 50 cent coins!).
There are more than 1000 km of water pipes in Hamilton alone, add to that a further 560 km in Waipa and 700 km in Waikato, so altogether that's over 2,200 km of pipes!
Pipes are fitted with instruments that monitor the flow, pressure and quality and if problems are suspected then cctv camera’s can be used so council staff can see straight away what is causing it and figure out how to fix it.
What happens if there is a broken pipe?
From time to time, you may notice that your water pressure is lower than usual or you have no water at all. This may be because there has been a break in one of the water pipes. The maze of pipes are designed so that water can be fed to suburbs from more than one direction so if there is a break in the pipes, the water can still get through to most houses. If a break does happen, Council staff and contractors will get onto repairing it straight away.
The final chapter is what you actually get to see at home! Turn on your tap and you will have high quality drinking water. This is also referred to as the ‘point of supply’. This is where the Council’s pipes stop and they meet up with your house’s pipes.
This place where the pipes meet is usually right outside the front of your property. It is underground and marked with a plastic lid that usually says ‘water’.
So next time you turn on your tap, you will know the journey it has taken to get there. Water is a precious resource so enjoy it, but make sure to be smart with how you use it – Smart water starts with you!