Monday, June 19, 2006

Drought Watch: Lawn watering only at night, reservoirs full, half normal rainfall

People shouldn’t be waiting for us to tell them what to do.” -- Gary
Fern, Director Albemarle County Service Authority

"Rivanna likely to declare drought watch"

By Jessica Kitchin, Daily Progress staff writer, June 19, 2006

Central Virginia may have received a visit from Tropical Depression Alberto last week, but it didn’t do much to dampen drought fears in the area, and local leaders are expected to take action soon.

The National Weather Service on Sunday reported that the Charlottesville area had received 10.3 inches of rain so far this year - less than half of the 21.8 inches of rainfall normally received by this point. And even with the tropical system coming through on Wednesday, the area is below normal precipitation for the month by more than an inch and a half.

As a result, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. is planning to ask the RWSA board today to declare a drought watch in the area. “We’re going to be making a strong call to the public to voluntarily conserve water and not use water that’s not necessary,” Frederick said. “Since no one knows what the future weather will bring, we have no way of knowing exactly how serious or mild this drought could be.”

RWSA reports show that Mechums River at Garth Road is flowing at 20 percent of its normal level for this time of year, and the Ragged Mountain and Sugar Hollow reservoirs are each down 7 inches. The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir is still full, but officials predict that its dam might stop spilling water within the next few weeks. “We are not weather forecasters, we can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Frederick said. “But what our hydrologic models can do is assess risk.” Those assessments, he said, warrant a drought watch declaration.

Drought watch is the first of three drought stages that can be declared by local officials - drier conditions could bring a drought warning and then a drought emergency, which carry more rigorous restrictions than a watch. An effort to coordinate actions among the RWSA, the Albemarle County Service Authority and Charlottesville and Albemarle local governments has been under way for several years, but a joint drought management plan hasn’t been passed yet. Consequently, there are some questions about what “drought watch” means for local residents.

Traditionally, a watch involves voluntary water-use reductions from residents and businesses. But in April, the Albemarle County Service Authority board voted to impose irrigation restrictions on county customers, meaning people would only be permitted to water their lawns, gardens and shrubs between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. The power to impose such a restriction, however, lies in local government, and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors doesn’t meet again until July 5. “The plan is to ask the board to impose those restrictions at their next meeting,” ACSA Director Gary Fern said. City officials do not plan to adopt such a restriction.

Still, “you’re really hoping people are conserving anyway,” Fern said. “People shouldn’t be waiting for us to tell them what to do.”

In terms of a coordinated drought management plan, Free Union resident John Martin said he’s frustrated that the four bodies haven’t finalized anything. “It’s been four years since the worst drought on record, and the fact that we don’t have a drought management plan is inexcusable,” he said. “The system is broken.”
Martin was referring to the 2002 drought, when much of Virginia was under “exceptional drought” status - the most serious ranking - and state and local authorities imposed bans on lawn watering, residential car washing and the filling of swimming pools, among other things. That year, the majority of the state’s agricultural counties applied for federal drought disaster designation.

Fern said the drafted guidelines, which were initiated in response to the 2002 drought, are followed even if they haven’t been formally passed. “The plan is in place and I think it’s a good plan,” he said. “Whether we say it’s a draft or a final doesn’t matter in my mind. We’re all on the same page and we’re all together on this.”

The groups have agreed to hold a public forum - scheduled for 6 p.m. July 13 in the City Council Chambers - before the plan is fully adopted.

Business owners who are worried that water restrictions could hurt their operations will have an opportunity this week to voice their concerns. Those meetings will be held Wednesday at the Albemarle County Office Building. At 9 a.m., local authorities will meet with restaurant owners, at 11 a.m. with apartment complex managers, at 3:30 p.m. with nursery workers and at 5:30 p.m. with car wash workers.

But Fern thinks the drafted plan avoids having disproportionate effects on any single industry. “When we get to certain stages, we’re going to be asking for restrictions. … We won’t be targeting any specific businesses; it’s going to be addressed [by imposing an even percentage of water reduction] across the board.”

"Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years" Jun 5 2006

"The Last Drought: Has time stood still for 25 years?" Sep 3 2002

"Drought Perspective" Sep 18 2002 (Comparison of droughts 1930, 1977, 2002)

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority


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