The Panic That Strikes When Your Toilet Refuses to Flush

When Amanda turned on the kitchen tap to fill the kettle at 10:30 at night, and all that issued from it was a splutter and air, it had all the hallmarks of one of those Galician sagas that would run and run.

Our first port of call to check the status of any of our services like electricity, Internet or water are our nearest neighbours, a lovely family who live about three hundred metres away and who moved here from Madrid about three years ago to escape the ‘crisis’. ‘Have you got water’ we asked, mainly to ascertain whether is was a problem with our property, or something more general in the village. ‘No, we’ll sort it tomorrow’ came the response.

So we did the British thing, had a cup of tea from the bottled water in the fridge, and went to bed, using the water in the cistern for a single flush. The neighbours didn’t seem to concerned so neither were we, it would all be sorted in the morning.

The morning came and our taps were still only running with fresh air. We messaged the neighbours again but as it was before 11am, there was no answer, our neighbours don’t get up very early. When we did eventually make contact they said that they had still no water so they had switched over from municipal town water to their own private well, which goes a long way to explaining why they weren’t too worried the previous evening!

We, however, don’t have a private well. We have plenty of unharnessed springs which spew water onto the land in the winter and even create boggy areas in the height of summer, but nothing that we could get to the house with any ease.

We don’t pay any water rates here, not a penny, which obviously has a big financial upside. The downside is that if you pay nothing for your water then you can’t have any expectation of continuity of service.

In our naivety we went down to the local council and explained the predicament, focussing on the lack of a functioning water closet, and the guy who answers the general enquiries did well to mask his snigger. ‘It’s not our responsibility’ he said ‘it’s a village thing’. He did, however, give us the number of the Clerk of Works, who confirmed the situation, but graciously said he’d send someone to have a look.

Since we bought the house back in 2010 almost all of our neighbours have been telling us that we have town water, and not to worry as it never runs out. Well, in our first year of occupation, it had run out… and now we couldn’t flush the loo, or take a shower, or fill the kettle, or water the allotment, or wash our clothes, or run the dishwasher.

Our neighbours were all fine, they’d switched on their wells, they had water, and flushing toilets, and clean clothes, and washed plates, and coffee!

While in town we bumped into Carlos, another neighbour from the village who I’ve written about on numerous previous occasions, and when we mentioned the water he grew a big grin. ‘I warned you’ he said, for he had done so a couple of summers previous hence us checking with the other neighbours, all of whom said not to worry. ‘There won’t be any water until November’ he added.

At this point I had all on to stop a full scale Amanda meltdown. I dragged her into the car with soothing words and talk of chocolate and we went to see the neighbours from Madrid. They showed off their well, even switching on the hosepipe to water the plants as a demonstration. I was livid, they were watering their plants and I couldn’t even flush the bog, but I tried hard to mask my fury.

It turned out that our ‘town water’ is actually a large deposit (around 50,000 litres) about half a kilometre up the road from us with a pipe running out of it which then feeds about 25 properties in two villages. Oscar had a key and I accompanied him to take a look at the deposit.


It was almost empty, just 10cm in the bottom of a 2.5m deep indoor swimming pool, and the water that was in there was just trickling into the pipe and down to the village. The spring entering the deposit seemed to be in full flow so we went to the source, about another five kilometres into the hills, to ensure that there was no blockage at the source.

The diagnosis was that there was plenty of water entering the deposit, but that we were using it faster than it could replenish, and then the finger pointing started!

It appears that we live in the middle of a community of water abusers, people who leave taps, and troughs, and irrigation system running and using up all the free water that normal folk, such as Amanda and I, should be using to flush their toilets.

On returning home I tried the tap again and we had water. Not a lot, and not flowing with any great pressure, but nevertheless water. I quickly flushed the loo.

After getting a deposit key cut I visited the little concrete bunker up the hill several times over the next few days and in the space of half a week it filled to the full 2.5 metres and then started running into the overflow and thence into a small stream outside.

Whoever was the main abuser/s had either seen the error of their ways, or much more likely when they realised that the town water had run off, they had switched over to their own private well which they were now happily using to water their livestock, or irrigate their tomatoes.

I am keeping an eye on the levels and now I have a key I’m prepared to use it, and woe betide anyone I find misusing my toilet flush water.

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2 Responses to The Panic That Strikes When Your Toilet Refuses to Flush

  1. Casas 15 says:

    We had exactly the same situation with water end May. And yes, all the locals switched to their wells. We have a well but it isn’t drinkable, which is empty now by the way due to drought. When we complained to Alcadia after water didn’t come back in 3 days, they said that helicopters used it to fight fire nearby, so our deposit was empty. And when we explained we have no other source of water for living, they promised it’ll be back in a few hours. It was somehow! But villagers do abuse mains water for irrigation as it’s ‘convenient’. However, we pay about 20€ every 2 months for the mains, nothing really, but it’s not free like yours.

  2. Ian says:

    Seeing as you will be running a Casa Rural you may need to look into ways on how to overcome running out of water. When registering (with the Xunta) your property to run as accommodation they could well check on if the water is treated and good for drinking.
    Running an accommodation bushiness and running out of water is not good for business, to say the least.

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