Doomsday: What happens when it's all gone?

We've heard the dire prediction: no water by December if current water usage rates continue. Daily, we're deluged with drought facts: Reservoirs are at 50-some percent; wells are running dry; car washes have been forced to close.

But what happens if we actually hit the bottom of the barrel, zero water?

"We can't let that happen," says Bill Brent, executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority. "We have to take more drastic, more painful measures."

Yes, but what happens if they don't work?

Larry Tropea, executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, says he's unaware of any precedent for a metropolitan area running out of water. So he has been meeting with the heads of various county and city organizations to work out a "doomsday strategy."

"If we hit zero," Tropea asks, "what do we do?"

At that point, he explains, any non-essential water use will be completely eliminated the economy be damned. Water must be conserved for three main uses: for health and sanitary purposes, for fire protection, and for hospitals and emergency services.

Some of the doomsday possibilities, Tropea says, are bringing in barges to access the bottom water or "heel" of the reservoirs, water that is below the current intake pipe level. This plan would also require temporary pumps and piping, but it could stretch the water supply significantly.

Chris Greene Lake, which does not currently serve as reservoir, could be tapped. Finally, the city and county could dig wells deep into aquifers. Extreme measures.

"We're hoping like the dickens we don't have to implement them," Tropea says. But he admits he doesn't see the problem resolving anytime soon. Our best hope? Heavy snowfall.

"We gotta have our fingers crossed for a bad winter," Tropea says. "The really scary thing is if we have another less-than-average winter. When the heat hits next summer, it'll be much worse."


Read more on: drought