Thursday, June 22, 2006

Drought Watch: here we go again

Monday’s vote set the stage for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to possibly impose restrictions at its July 5 meeting that would allow residents to water their lawns and gardens only between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The Albemarle County Service Authority has issued a DROUGHT WATCH for their customers in Albemarle County. The DROUGHT WATCH requests that customers begin voluntary water conservation efforts and restrict their automatic irrigation systems to working between the hours of 8:00 PM and 7:00 AM.

The DROUGHT WATCH is the first stage in the three stages of drought identification. The second stage is the DROUGHT WARNING and the third stage is DROUGHT EMERGENCY.

Water restriction rules for the 3 levels of action(pdf)

Rising Reservoir Baffles Officials"(doc) Nov 19 2001

“The water supply has risen from 68.2% to 70.7% of capacity during the past week. But it hasn’t rained in 30 days.

Albemarle service authority director Bill Brent theorized that the ground water flow into the reservoir had increased because trees are becoming dormant for winter.”

Full and Overflowing: Near Drought Over, Christmas Miracle"(doc) Dec 20 2001

“The South Rivanna reservoir was “full and overflowing” on December 3rd as reported on WINA radio. Albemarle service authority director Bill Brent confessed he had no good explanation since there had been no significant rain. Only three weeks before, media warned of imminent mandatory water restrictions. The miraculous recharging of our water supply has not received the same fanfare. […]

Change in Volume [water supply] = Inflow – Outflow
= Runoff + Underground flow
– Consumption – Discharge downstream
– Evaporation – Sedimentation

Underground water flow has proven to be the significant unknown, this the third dry autumn in a row. […]”

If reservoirs drop a half percent a day, we have about 60 days until mandatory restrictions if last drought is a guide. 70% was the trigger in ‘02 up from 65% trigger in ‘01. And theoretically we have about 200 days of supply right now. The '02 restrictions followed several dry years. Today's drought follows several wet years. The underground water flow has kept the reservoirs full despite half the average rainfall so far this year.

The CvilleNews angle

"Rivanna issues drought watch"

by Jessica Kitchin, Daily Progress staff writer, Monday, June 19, 2006

In light of exceptionally dry conditions, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority board on Monday wasted no time in issuing a drought watch for the region, something RWSA director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. said was an important proactive step.

“The idea is to step in and keep the public informed,” he said. “I am convinced that we are, today, in a drought.”

The board’s vote came at a meeting that also included a landmark move for the county’s long-term water needs.

The National Weather Service reports that the area has received only 10.3 inches of rain this year, nearly a foot below normal. And in Frederick’s report to the board, he pointed to severely low stream flow at Mechums River, which is flowing at only 17 percent of the seasonal average. The Ragged Mountain and Sugar Hollow reservoirs are both below capacity, and if the weather remains dry, Frederick said he expects the South Fork Rivanna Dam to stop spilling water for the first time since 2002, when the area suffered one of the worst droughts in history.

“I’m not sure we need a lot of discussion on this,” Albemarle County Executive Robert W. Tucker Jr. said before the unanimous vote. The board members agreed that the first of three drought stages should be declared - a drought watch, which involves calls for voluntary water-conservation efforts from residents.

Monday’s vote set the stage for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to possibly impose restrictions at its July 5 meeting that would allow residents to water their lawns and gardens only between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. If conditions worsen, the RWSA board might issue the more serious drought warning or eventually a drought emergency, both of which carry more extensive restrictions, such as a ban on residential car washing.

Eleanor Butner, an Albemarle County resident since 1972, said such restrictions would probably result in her losing much of her garden, but she said she wouldn’t hesitate to stop watering. “You lose your plants, you lose your grass, but if everyone cooperates, maybe we won’t be in the same position we were in a few years ago,” she said.

Butner said she doesn’t water her plants too often anyway, but if word comes from the county that she should stop, she would use her outdoor spigot only to provide water for the five baby bluebirds in her garden’s birdhouse. “And let’s just hope and pray that it’s going to rain for everything else,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, the RWSA board also took the final local step regarding the county’s long-term water supply plan. The group unanimously approved a plan to expand Ragged Mountain Reservoir and construct a pipeline between it and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

After years of contentious debate on the water supply issue, the South Fork pipeline option emerged late last year and was widely praised by residents, government officials and local advocacy groups. Now that it has unanimously passed all four local governing boards - the Board of Supervisors, the Charlottesville City Council, the Albemarle County Service Authority board and the RWSA board - it will go to the state for approval. “I can’t say enough about the cooperation and support from the community,” Frederick said as he presented the plan.

RWSA board Chairman Michael Gaffney and the rest of the board smiled brightly as they voted. “We finally made it here, Tom,” Gaffney said. “That’s wonderful.”

This story can be found at:


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