Water Authority declares drought watch

It took just seven minutes for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors to vote unanimously this afternoon in favor of a voluntary water conservation measure.

Data issued in a press release and discussed at the meeting points to a worsening dip in reservoir and stream levels, which is projected to continue throughout the summer. According to the RWSA, as of July 18, the Ragged Mountain reservoir is 3.7 feet below full, the Sugar Hollow reservoir is 0.8 feet below full, and local streams are running at less than 25 percent of their normal seasonal levels.

Despite citing these sobering numbers, Tom Frederick, the executive director of the authority, made no predictions about the trend, but he argued the warning is justified. "None of us have a perfect crystal ball on this issue," he said. "We want to make sure we prudently use our water supply."

The drought watch, the first of three steps in the authority's Drought Response and Contingency Plan, does not impose any mandatory actions on the part of local residents, but rather "represents a strong call to citizens to voluntarily conserve water at every opportunity." If conditions continue to worsen, the next step in the process would impose involuntary water use restrictions, but it would have to be cleared by elected officials first.

In 2002 the Charlottesville-Albemarle area was gripped by a drought so profound that some citizens began collecting rainwater and siphoning soapy water from their bathtubs. Meanwhile, a consortium of upscale restaurants began using paper plates, and car washes were involuntarily shut down.

Inside the authority's administration building on Moores Creek Lane, some board members said that there might be some relief in the coming hurricane season, but for now the drought watch will go ahead. In a discussion of the measure before the final vote, board members were silent except for Gary Fern. "I don't know if there's much to discuss," he said, "based on the data."



Since the last severe drought in 2002, what steps has the RWSA done to increase the capacity of existing reservoirs? During the last drought, rates were increased to help fund a number of proposals that were supposed to increase water supplies. Reservoir dredging and raising levels of existing spillways were discussed. So, now 5 years later we are in the midst of another prolonged drought, where has all the money raised by increased rates gone? Has the RWSA done anything to keep up with the growth rate in the city and county? I see new businesses, new condos, new housing developments, new apartments springing up all over, but what improvements have been made to our water supply?

Maybe you guys could quit building so damn many houses. Or isn't there much to discuss.... based on the data.