Since Velebit is built of highly permeable limestone rock, rainwater quickly disappears in underground cavities. Reliable springs are rare and scanty, while permanent watercourses are virtually nonexistent. Hot summers with plenty of sunshine, as well as the frequent bura wind that amplifies evaporation, enhance the aridity.
Reserves of rainwater collected during winter and spring had to last through the long dry summer until the first abundant autumn rains. Cisterns were built for storage of the precious water. Rainwater poured into the reservoir, conveyed by gutters from stable or barn roofs. Sometimes, natural flat rock faces were used as collecting surfaces.
The cistern usually stood in the courtyard. Its surface often served as a pretty terrace, shaded with grapevine arbour that provided additional protection from heat. The opening of the cistern was closed by a strong cover and locked in order to prevent water theft. In a well-kept cistern, water was clean and fresh, but the modest reserves accumulated during the rainy season could not meet the household needs in the long dry summer.
When cisterns and rock basins went dry, one had to fetch water from high up in the mountain, where snow lies throughout the year at the bottom of deep pits. It was mostly women who went to the distant and inaccessible snow pits, climbing for hours through the rocky landscape. They filled large wooden vessels called burila with snow and carried them on their backs down to their homes at the foot of the mountain. The snow, melted in a kettle above the fire, or in a trough placed in a sunny spot, was transformed into crumbinfested, but life-saving water, which was used for drinking throughout the summer.