Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 675–688 | Cite as

Vulnerability of farm water supply systems to volcanic ash fall

  • Thomas Wilson
  • Carol Stewart
  • Jim Cole
  • David Johnston
  • Shane Cronin
Original Article


Agriculture is critically dependent on continuity of water quality and quantity. It is well-established that even small quantities of volcanic ash can disrupt municipal water supplies, with known impacts to quality including: acidification, increases in turbidity and ionic concentrations. In addition, delivery systems may be blocked or damaged by hard and abrasive suspended ash and related ash-cleanup operations place extra stress on water reserves. The aim of this study was to characterise the key areas of vulnerability of farm water supplies to volcanic ashfall, and to identify management recommendations to reduce these. From literature review and case studies of farms impacted by the 1991 Pinatubo (Philippines) and 1991 Hudson (Chile) eruptions, key issues were: sedimentation of irrigation ditches and drinking water ponds, turbidity induced abrasion of sprinkler nozzles and water pumps, and damage to electric pumps (by ash on air-intakes). Building on this, we characterised the water-use regimes and water supply system vulnerability of eight case-study farms from across the North Island, New Zealand. From this, we propose an index system to evaluate the vulnerability of farm water supply systems. The key contributors to the vulnerability index include: water source, storage capacity, reliance on electricity, independence/interconnectedness of system elements, volume of water use and other load factors. These allow identification of key strategies for mitigating water supply vulnerability during prevention, preparation, response and recovery phases of a volcanic eruption.


Volcanic hazards Vulnerability index Hudson Pinatubo Hekla Ruapehu St Helens 



The authors would like to thank the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for funding this research (Wilson & Cole), and in particular Phil Journeaux for his assistance and support. We acknowledge Research Science and Technology Grants C05X0804 (Johnston & Cole) & MAUX0401 (Cronin). We would like to thank the many farmers and farm managers that participated in our field research and for the valuable contributions they have given, with special thanks to Alex O’Connell, Fonterra, for assistance and discussions in Taranaki. Thanks to Lisa Pearse and Garth Eyles, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council; Bevan Jenkins, Environmental Waikato; Peter Moore and Kerry Coulton, Fonterra; Fiona Moore and Mike Langford, Taranaki Regional Council; Allan Tollard and Peter Cook, South Taranaki District Council for their discussions and assistance, and to Sam Hampton, University of Canterbury, for his assistance in the field, insightful discussions, and excellent drafting skills.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Wilson
    • 1
  • Carol Stewart
    • 2
  • Jim Cole
    • 1
  • David Johnston
    • 3
  • Shane Cronin
    • 4
  1. 1.Natural Hazards Research Centre, Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  2. 2.Brooklyn, WellingtonNew Zealand
  3. 3.Joint Centre for Disaster ResearchGNS/Massey UniversityLower HuttNew Zealand
  4. 4.Volcanic Risk SolutionsMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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