Stop watering: Drought restrictions likely


The Rivanna River is low, and not just because the Woolen Mills dam is coming down.
PHOTO BY HOOK STAFF

Continued lack of rain likely will kick in water-usage restrictions tomorrow when Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors hold special meetings at 1:30 and 2pm respectively to vote on emergency resolutions.

The area's low-flowing streams and rivers, plus the cessation of water flowing over the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Dam August 13 prompted the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to seek the restrictions, which primarily forbid outdoor watering (except with a 3-gallon can), car, building and pavement washing (unless at a commercial establishment), pool filling, decorative fountains and unrequested water in restaurants.

Since the drought of 2002, RWSA has adopted a risk assessment model that takes into account 82 years of historical information about rainfall and stream and river flow to determine how likely we are to run out of water. The three-step system starts with a "drought watch", which was declared July 23. Next is the "drought warning," the stage we're approaching, and if it doesn't rain and we don't reduce usage by 5 percent, we'll be in a "drought emergency" and drinking from the bottom of the reservoir.

"We are not there yet," says RWSA executive director Tom Frederick. At the emergency stage, there's a 5 percent or greater chance of falling below 60 percent capacity in eight weeks.

The risk assessment model was adopted in 2006 after authorities told the water authority, "We don't want to miss a drought, but we don't want to annoy people unnecessarily," says Frederick. He acknowledges that the risk assessment model is sort of like an insurance company pulling out statistics, but says statistics are the best way to predict– and avoid– running out of water.

Frederick was not here during the drought of '02, when fancy restaurants served on paper plates and car washes were shut down, and he says consumers will have to decide the differences in how low rainfall is handled. "I hope they'd say it's being managed more proactively with better data," he says.

And he anticipates questions about what's been done since 2002 to increase capacity. "We're working diligently to get state and federal permits" to expand Ragged Mountain Reservoir, says Frederick. But even if the permits are issued this year, he estimates it will take four years after that to get the extra capacity going. Gulp.

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6 comments

You forgot the "forth stage." That's the one where they get to hike their water rates because everyone conserved so well they lost revenue.

If they adopt restrictions, I'm going to make it a point to water my lawn every day and wash my car once a week. Both things I wouldn't do otherwise.

Bastards. How can they not have permits to start work five years after the last drought? Probably got filed five weeks ago. Judging by the first few comments here, I'm not the only one unwilling to help out this time.

Now how is this possible? I could have sworn the last time we had a water emergency the RWSA made a big to-do about dredging the reservoir, which was supposed to create quite an increase in capacity. Oh wait - just talk.

And they were going to build a pipeline from the reservoir up in the hills, which was supposed to create quite an increase in capacity. Oh wait - just talk.

And all those politicians who were in the middle of this were going to make sure the problem was addressed. Oh wait - just talk.

And the people who elected the do-nothings were going to toss them out on their butts if they didn't do SOMETHING. Oh wait - just talk.

And probably worst of all, all of the relatively sensible things that people did the last time we had a water crisis - reusing gray water, if it's yellow let it mellow, etc, all fell by the wayside. Not for everybody - some people were doing those easy, cheap, sensible things long before the last water problem. Some people never water their lawns anyway.

It's another good time to open a cistern business!

I've been limiting my water usage for most of the summer. I'm very careful to limit the amount of garden watering I do, trying to limit waste water as much as possible. Earlier this week, whilst I was waiting for a bus at UHall, I noticed the practice football field was being drenched by two high power-high flow water cannons, and I thought to myself "so much for my efforts to conserve water." Let's all bow down and worship at the altar of Cavalier football.

Send the bill to the real estate companies that have lured tens of thousands of New England and northern Virginia retirees down here--small wonder the water gets tight---this is the result of realtor marketing ploys.

This is completely unnecessary. I'm turning on my hose and making a pond.