Tub overfloweth: Water conservers change tactics

Most people won't soon forget the fall of 2002. After a blisteringly hot and dry summer, wells dried up, car washes closed, and upscale restaurants served food on paper plates. The Hook's cover story on September 26 that year found a bunch of locals struggling with parched conditions. This year, we checked back in with some of those folks to see what a difference a little or a lot of water makes.



 Last year, Shane Foster of Foster Well & Pump Company was working around the clock drilling new wells for people whose homes were without water. This year, the company's still busy, but for a different reason: too much rain. "We're working on wells because of cloudy, dingy water, sediment, and grit problems," Foster explains. Where last year the wait for a well was a mind-boggling eight to 10 weeks, now, Foster says, customers can expect a speedy reply. "We're steady," he says, "drilling, weather permitting, every day."



 Even with a rain surplus in the double digits, activist Kevin Cox keeps on doing his part to conserve water. "I still have a bunch of barrels in my back yard," says Cox, "and a couple have water in them."

Cox, who lives in the Woolen Mills neighborhood, says he may soon have a new tool for his hydrophilic friends: He's hard at work devising a way to flush his toilets using rain water.



 Last year, Garnett Mellen came up with an ingenious way to keep her fig trees and lettuce alive through the hot, dry days of the drought: She siphoned her children's used bath water out the second story window. This year, such measures haven't been necessary; her bath water goes down the drain like most everyone else's. But she hasn't given up on all water conserving measures. Her two rain barrels still collect water by the gallon, which she uses to water her lush downtown garden.



 Drought or flood? Either one adversely affects Henry Weinschenk's Express Car Wash. But if he has to pick his poison, he knows which he'll choose. "I'll take Mother Nature," he laughs, referring to this year's above-average rainfall. Last year, he wasn't laughing. When water levels fell below 55 percent, the City of Charlottesville shut down Express and other car washes for six weeks in a move that Weinschenk called "patently unfair and un-American." The Rutherford Institute agreed, and in June filed a lawsuit against the City on behalf of Weinshchenk.

Despite his beef with the city, Weinschenk says Express continues to follow water conserving measures, which include special nozzles purchased in 1999, when another drought struck. "We reduced consumption permanently by 30 percent," says Weinschenk. "That's why it felt like a kick in the teeth when we were shut down."



 "You'd hardly even know we had a drought," says Mike DeCanio, owner of Gordonsville's Toliver House restaurant. But the memories of paper plates and plastic utensils remain vivid for DeCanio and his patrons.

"It's funny how people come in here still talk about it," he says. "They tell me, 'We're so glad you're using plates!'" The china's back out, DeCanio reports, and business is "wonderful." Apparently, the restaurant's luck has changed: Even Hurricane Isabel couldn't shut Toliver House down. "We didn't lose electricity even for a moment," says DeCanio. "We were able to feed all the people who had lost power."



 Drought or no drought, Marlene Condon says she's a convert to conservation. "Since I got into the habit of collecting the water while my shower heats up, I still do that to keep my ponds filled," she explains. "Once you get into the habit of doing something, it doesn't seem like a chore; it becomes second nature."

As for the surplus of rain, Condon says it's not just a good thing. "Too much rain affects plants," she says. "That's why there wasn't a lot of fall color." Butterflies also suffered in the deluge: "We had so much rain that plants grew fast and petered out earlier than usual," Condon explains.

"Usually," she says, "there are goldenrods blooming in October, and they help sustain Monarchs late leaving for Mexico. That is not the case this year."