Stop watering: Drought restrictions likely
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.