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Will the water always flow?

cracked earth
The ground is so dry it is cracking (Kerryn Humphreys)

By Amy Worley, CJS Features Commissioning Editor

There are four of us in our house and we all dip in the same bath water - why on earth are you doing that you ask? Well, we are lucky enough to live in rural North Yorkshire and, apart from the shockingly bad internet, it’s a great place to be. It has, however, never been connected up to the mains for water or sewage so my property along with 7 others (2 of which are working farms) draws water from a spring on the moor above the properties.

The water flows by gravity from the spring to a holding tank then down pipes to each property: we are at the end of the line. The water is lovely, it’s tasty with no chemical additives and generally clear apart from when it rains heavily. When this happens, it turns a murky shade of brown (don’t pull a face!) We are recommended to run it through a UV filter to kill any organisms but having all grown up on spring water we’re pretty hardy in the stomach region (we do boil it for people with more delicate constitutions).

Anyway, I digress.

This last winter was dry, one of the driest I’ve known, consequently the water table was low as we entered spring. A dry spring and now an incredibly hot and dry summer with no rain on the horizon. We’ve been using our water carefully since earlier in the year and are now restricting the water we use and saving any we wash with to put on the vegetable patch or else the peas and beans are never going to swell.

water falling from an orange pipe in to a tank of water
The water flow in to our collection tank - yes this does supply all of us (Amy Worley)

We don’t wash hands for long, turn off the tap whilst brushing teeth, don’t flush the loo after spending a penny, the washing machine is on the quickest wash it will do, the dishwasher is stuffed and again on quick wash. Sometimes things don’t come out clean but never mind. I’ve not mopped the floor for months but that’s not a water saving exercise!

For the horses, sheep, geese and hens we fill containers of water at the homes of friends and neighbours. Sometimes I do a rain dance but I try not to worry. It’s a good spring, it’s always been a good spring but whether it can cope with the modern way of living I don’t know. In comparison with 100 or even 50 years ago, today’s households use and waste far more water. There used to be a washing day (that’s right just one a week), today’s society seems to want to wash clothes every time they are worn. Mine only get washed when they are filthy or smell. More households had water supplies like ours, they had to think about the water they used. The connection of more properties to mains water has given the misguided belief that water is always going to be there.

With the warming planet, water is undoubtedly going to become scarcer. There are rumblings of a potential hosepipe ban as reservoirs run low and I believe this should be a measure available to water companies. If the lawn goes brown it’s not the end of the world and there is no need to regularly clean the car; my car is always dirty. Water is a finite resource and we need to manage it better.

So apart from the worry and the occasionally brown water what else does spring water throw at us? One year when the water stopped flowing, a check on the holding tank showed that there was still water coming in and the tank was full, so why no water to the houses? Further investigations revealed a dead frog wedged in the outlet pipe from the tank. Nice!

nematomorph parasitic worm on a piece of paper next to a ruler
The offending nematomorph next to a ruler to give idea of size (Kerryn Humpreys)

We also believe the supply to be good for wildlife as a few years ago when running the bath for the children something akin to a piece of grass came out of the cold tap, followed by another similar piece. I fished them out of the bath and dropped them in the sink; looking back one appeared to move. A little freaked out I gathered it in to a container and asked the good people on Twitter what it might be with the following explanation:

“It's unsegmented, pigmentation varies from muddy green to a dark brown, one end is a head with a darker brown colouring as if dipped in paint, the other end has claspers which look a little like lego people hands and in the middle, slightly nearer the head end is a bulge, not a saddle as in true worms but a cyst/egg sack? Behaviourally it seemed to need water or at least to be moist, didn't seem affected by light and both ends moved, the 'head' end more so rearing up and obviously seeking something lifting about a third of its length from the paper.”

Mark Blaxter, Edinburgh Genomics and Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh got back with the identification. “What you have is a nematomorph, or Gordian or horsehair worm. They are parasites of insects, especially crickets and grasshoppers, as juveniles. The adults live in fresh water/boggy soil. You have an adult, and it is a lovely demonstration of how ecologically clean your water supply is (bonus!). However, it does mean that larger insects may be getting into your supply, so you might want to check whatever filters you have upstream - though the worms are so thin, they can wriggle through small openings.
It is entirely harmless to humans - apart from eardrum inducing shrieks when people find them in their nice cool, fresh glass of tap water.”

I fully investigated every glass of water I had after that for a fair while before drinking it.

So I hope rain is coming soon but as a local farmer said when I recently asked him “hot enough for you?” “Well it’s a proper summer isn’t it.” Can’t argue with that!

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Posted On: 17/07/2022

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