Sunday, March 16, 2008

"The emperor has no water" Hoax

Charlottesville, Va.—When our reservoirs are full (such as now), how much water do we have?

2 billion gallons or 2,029 MG (million gallons).

Okay. Wait a minute. How much is that? If it stops raining, when do the reservoirs go dry? Seems like an obvious question. But, if you’ve read the newspapers for the past 6 years, nobody knows how much water we have in terms how long it will last.

Think of the water from your faucet as being pumped to you by an engine. The motor has 3 gasoline tanks (reservoirs). When all 3 tanks are full, how long until water faucet dries up? It depends on the gas mileage (daily demand).

The water engine is so big and complex that the city and county created a company and hired a crew of mechanics to keep the water flowing. The Rivanna Authority’s CEO and Board of Directors advise the city and county to replace one tank with a larger tank so water can flow longer before needing to be recharged. The community asks RWSA how much water will the larger tank bring. But the CEO says it depends on capacity and gas mileage. It depends on low demand such as winter and high demand such as summer.

“This whole debate is based on the premise that the demand on the urban water system will double from today's average daily flow of 9.7 million gallons to the Authority's projected demand of 19.29 million gallons per day (MGD) in 2055” (“COVER- Trickling away: A dam develops amid missed chances” by editor by HAWES SPENCER, published March 13, 2008, The Hook)

At average daily demand today, we have 209 Days = 2,029 MG / 9.7 MGD. When reservoirs are full, we have 7 months of water. 6.97 months = 209.1 Days / 30 days-per-month.

Is that enough water? Is 7 months enough drought insurance? When is the last time it didn’t rain for 7 months? Never!

This Hook story doesn’t say how much water we have, not in gallons or days of supply. Without the volume, you can’t use the “safe daily yield” figures and average daily demand given in the article to calculate how much water we have. Last week’s article (“COVER- Reservoir dogged: A $142 million boondoggle?” LISA PROVENCE, published February 28, 2008, The Hook) gave the total volume for 4 reservoirs but no daily demand figures. This week’s article says 3 reservoirs serve the city and county with Beaver Dam dedicated to Crozet.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could go to the RWSA website ( and get the official statistics and metrics. If the information is there, it’s buried in some report. So I’m using data that trickles out from the press or meetings I attend. The expanded Ragged Mountain would bring 160 Days = 3,105 MG / 19.29 MGD, or about 5 months of water.

In 1977, after 10 months of record drought, there were 226 days or 7.5 months of supply.

“The rain Friday, [RWSA operations director Eugene] Potter said, will probably not make a difference, since it was so light it soaked into the ground rather than running off into the reservoirs. The watersheds of the Sugar Hollow and Ragged Mountain lakes are so small that only heavy and prolonged rains raise their levels, he said.

“We’re starting to get disturbed,” Potter said Friday. “When we get to 90 days storage, we’re recommending voluntary conservation” be instituted, he said.

There are about 136 days water supply in the South Rivanna reservoir but the other two are very likely below the 90-day mark, the operations chief said, though calculating how many days of storage remains is difficult since that figure depends on what rate the water is consumed, a rate that varies” (“Rainfall Short, Water Saving Plan Proposed” by Peter Bacque of The Progress Staff, September 10, 1977, The Daily Progress).

Here’s the formula:

Change in Volume = Runoff + UndergroundFlow — Consumption — DischargeDownstream — Evaporation — Sedimentation

If no rain, Runoff = 0. Evaporation and Sedimentation is small, close to zero in the short term. Consumption and Discharge are measured and predictable. Underground flow unexpectedly filled the S. Rivanna in late 2001 after 30 days with no rain. On Dec. 3, 2001 WINA news quoted the Albemarle Service Authority director Bill Brent, who theorized trees becoming dormant for winter allowed more underground flow. But it was the third dry autumn in a row.

Eugene Potter retired as RWSA operations director following the drought of 2002. Today, adjusted for average daily water demand, the South Rivanna has 119 days and the other two reservoirs have…you guessed it…90 days. In 2002 RWSA made numerous claims recorded in many media that 2002 was the worst drought on record, second only to the 1930 drought.

“Charlottesville-Albemarle’s summer drought, already the most severe on record by a “substantial margin,” “may very well continue into the winter,” according to the Office of the State Climatologist.

Acting State Climatologist Bruce P. Hayden Monday urged the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to put into effect at once plans to conserve water in the agency’s city-county service area because the prospects for getting sufficient quantities of vitally needed rain during the critical fall and winter rainy season are “very, very bleak.” […]

Hayden’s memorandum to the water agency—and a letter informing the governor’s office of the “gravity of the current drought and the unusually poor prospect for significant rain storms” —confirms what local officials had not previously had the facts to support.

In the 80-odd years that rainfall records have been kept at the University’s McCormick Observatory, 1976-77 ranks as the driest by far, Hayden said.

The last year’s rainfall is almost exactly half of normal annual precipitation, the records show, and is substantially lower than the worst previous drought in 1929-30.

Between November of 1976 and August this year, Charlottesville-Albemarle received 18.65 inches of rain, 50.8 per cent of the 36.71 inches normal for the region.

In the 1929-30 drought, the area got 23.37 inches during the same months. […]

The State Climatologist’s Office was established this summer after a four year lapse in its existence. Hayden is an associate professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia (Severe Record Drought Expected to Continue” by Peter Bacque, Oct. 4, 1977, The Daily Progress).

Three days later, the city and county enacted mandatory restrictions. A month after that, the drought was over, reservoirs were full. Subsequently, the Rivanna Authority acquired 1,300 acres in 1983 near Free Union for Buck Mountain Reservoir before being denied a dam permit. In 2006 the agency unveiled a plan to use Buck Mountain land as replacement wetlands in the Ragged Mountain mitigation plan for expansion.

The Water Shortage Hoax

The most recent hoax began in 2001. In 2000 executive director Arthur Petrini had a certain level of supply to trigger mandatory restrictions. That was 60%. Today that would be 4 months of supply remaining. A 70% threshold or 5 months of supply triggered the 2002 restrictions.

In August 2007 RWSA’s newest (since 2004) executive director Tom Fredrick called for mandatory conservation which led to the third local water restrictions in the agency’s history. But he offered no objective trigger. He didn’t say how many days of water we had on hand. Instead Frederick was melodramatic as if a catastrophe were about to happen.

During the 6 months of restrictions, several people called radio shows and wrote letters to newspapers stating that people were wasting water. But no citation was issued this time, unlike the previous restrictions of 2002. That’s because everyone knew there was no drought, everyone except the press.

How many times can you cry wolf before people don’t care if the wolf eats you? The 2007 drought was the most obvious hoax yet.

RWSA has gone through cycles of good and bad leadership. In 2001 that leadership took a turn for the worse. The new interim executive director Cole Hendrix was city manager when the agency was born in 1972. A June 1 deadline required consolidation of city-county water-sewer facilities to receive grants to upgrade Crozet’s sewer system, which discharges into the Rivanna.

The agency was born out of secrecy. The 2-month closed meeting negotiations made the news a week before election May 2, 1972. The night before Council elections, the Council voted to open the talks to the public. Incumbent Mayor Mitch Van Yahres, the chief negotiator, and George Gilliam were elected.

When Hendrix became RWSA director in ’01, the 1977 urban renewal chairman Rich Collins was RWSA chairman of the board. These men didn’t share their relevant experience with the community because they were hiding their past records. They had decades of practice manipulating the press.

Under the new leadership since 2004, the agency has continued the drought crisis hoax. How does a simple falsehood become a full-blown hoax?

The Emperor’s invisible clothes

The falsehood becomes a hoax when the King’s court goes along with the party line. The officials, the press, the experts all say how incredible the Emperor’s new clothes truly are. The hoaxers don’t give any detailed information about the gossamer threads. The hoax depends on charisma and grandstanding to convince people of the invisibility. But everybody knows there’s no such thing as invisible clothes. If there were, why would you wear them in public? But all the respected leaders, who should know better, go along with it.

The less informed public goes along because the experts know what they’re talking about…until someone outside the expert group speaks the plain truth where everybody can hear it. Remember the little boy spoke the truth at a public parade where the Emperor was boldly strutting his nakedness in everyone’s face.

Charlottesville has many hoaxes. We’re like a communist country. Everything’s falling apart, the infrastructure is crumbling, but newspapers say how great things are and how the latest 5-year comprehensive plan was successful. It’s a city of secrets.

I hope this essay sheds some light and helps to understand what’s going on. It’s mostly personalities and very little science.


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