Monday, March 09, 2009

‘Crying Drought’ Fatigue

Charlottesville, Va.—Here are couple comments I’ve posted recently on the Water Supply Plan debate.

"League of Women Voters Ask: What do we do when the rains stop" by Sean Tubbs, March 5, 2009, Charlottesville Tomorrow

"Crying Drought" Fatigue

"If the model tells us that there’s a greater than 20% probability that total storage will be less than 80% within 12 weeks [A], we know that we need to start calling on a drought watch," Fern said. "If the model is run a little later and we find out that there is a 10% probability that storage will be less than 70% within ten weeks [B], we go to the drought warning, and finally if all of a sudden we run the model and there’s a 5% probability that total storage will be less than 60% in eight weeks [C], we need to go to the third stage, which is a drought emergency." (Gary Fern)

Think about this for a minute. We're now in a drought emergency. (C) 95% probability that storage will be greater than 60% in 8 weeks. We're also in a drought warning. (B) 90% for greater than 70% in 10 weeks. AND we're in a drought watch. (A) 80% plus chance we'll have more than 80% storage in 12 weeks. We're in perpetual drought. Reservoirs are not supposed to be constantly at 100%.

How about this: How long without rain before reservoirs go dry? What's the longest dry spell on record? We don't ask these questions because everybody knows the drought crisis is fictional. But no one wants to call the "experts" on their gobbedygook. When's the last time a reporter asked RWSA how long our supply will last versus the dryspell of record? RWSA doesn't have any records on past drought conditions and water levels, according to Tom Frederick. I keep referring back to the drought of record 1977 (which today RWSA doesn't recognize) when RWSA reported how many days of supply we had on hand. 7 months (226 days) after 10 months of drought 50% drier than any other drought (including 1930 & 2002). When's the last time it didn't rain for 7 months. Never. a 45-day dry spell is rare. Who cares about rainfall deficit if there's enough water supply? Of course I've reported on this extensively. But lack of record keeping and lack of data generally require pseudo-scientific reasoning where you start at the conclusion and work backwards, dismissing anything that might contradict the foregone conclusion.

"Mayor Norris repackages his water plan for local Democrats" by Brian Wheeler, Feb. 21, 2009, Charlottesville Tomorrow

"Fuzzy History, Faulty Conclusions"

Sometimes we don't speak up and correct people because we want to be polite. And often those corrected become resentful. But we do the community a disservice when we silently allow misinformation to be disseminated.

Thanks to Liz for her historical summary. But it is not true that 2002 was the worst drought on record. RWSA consultant Gannett-Fleming gave this date in 2002 but has stopped saying this, according to Kevin Lynch at a May 19, 2008 City Council meeting after I had corrected a speaker who repeated the myth. There is a large volume of contradictory evidence from many sources. In 2002 RWSA chairman Rich Collins did not correct the misinformation although he had implemented water-saving measures during the first mandatory conservation in 1977 as a local housing official. As recently as 2009 RWSA director Tom Frederick said 2002 was worst drought for parts of our watershed and 1930 for other parts.

Liz gives the impression she's estimating/guessing at the dates. She gives 1908 for Ragged Mountain lower dam but no mention of the city's first reservoir in 1885- the upper dam. And 1920s for Sugar Hollow, 1960s for South Rivanna, 1980s for Buck Mountain. Why didn't she give the year they were built or went into operation or purchased if she had done the research? Based on this information, if someone wanted to go back and research, they'd have to look through the whole decade, making it a daunting effort.

Liz doesn't mention when RWSA was formed, giving the impression that RWSA has been around since 1908. If you go back and look at the actual history, as I have, her summary gives the impression she's omitting important milestones to avoid the controversies surrounding them at the time, and apparently nowadays as well.

I have written several historical summaries with details. My latest includes a searchable, almost word-for-word transcription of the RWSA Charter that governs the Rivanna Authority. The 42-page scanned document is available to anyone. You can email the address on the blog for the actual document (6 meg pdf). The question is: can you handle the real truth?

Rivanna Four Party Agreement 1972 to 2012

(From E-mail to Rob Schilling with attached 'Four Party Agreement' and copied to Tom Frederick, RWSA who had sent the agency's charter to me in response to a request for it and follow-up to 2005 request for info on 1977 drought, Feb. 10, 2009)

"Note that RWSA has stream flow data from 1977 but no "description of the actual conditions that occurred in any past drought." Given the large volume of documentation on the 1977 drought locally from many sources which led to acquisition of land for Buck Mountain Reservoir 1983, it's incumbent on RWSA (Gannett Fleming) to show why 1977 does not merit honorable mention as a significant drought, especially since this drought occurred during the life of the agency. Kevin Lynch said to me on May 19, 2008 at a City Council meeting that Gannett Fleming has stopped saying 2002 is worst drought of record, apparently in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence."

"Four boards negotiate recommendations from reservoir task force report" by Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler, March 9, 2009, Charlottesville Tomorrow for March 3 meeting.

Rivanna Four Party Agreement 1972 to 2012

"Council approves water plan again", Jun. 2, 2008

"Dredging alternative at Citizens forum" May 5, 2008

"The emperor has no water" Hoax, Mar. 16, 2008

"2007: Year of the Non-Drought" Jan. 3, 2008

"50-year Water Plan for 76% more population: Ragged at same phase as Buck Mountain", Sep. 18, 2007

"Rivanna uncomfortable using Buck Mountain land for Ragged Mountain plan" Nov. 2, 2006

"Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years" Jun. 6, 2006. Includes Tom Frederick’s report to Council Feb. 7, 2005

All about "The Last Drought," Sep 3 2002

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

All 23 pages of the 2001-02 pamphlet series, includes much local water history.


Anonymous Neilswilliamson said...

These facts are helpful and highlight the number of studies, proposals and concepts that have been considered over the last 30 years to provide a safe water supply.

The lastest Community Water Supply Plan went through a significant public vetting process. Yet the results of this process, the plan, is now being called into question by a subsequent city council.

Do you see this new look at the approved plan as positive?

3/10/2009 4:15 PM  
Blogger Blair said...

Thanks. The basic assumptions of the plan have been called into question all along--but not by people of political influence and institutional expertise. So concerns that we had enough water and demand has not increased in 30 years (and may not increase as projected) were ignored. But the latest vetting process contrasted dramatically with what went on 1972 to 2004. Many of the critics now became vocal only when a new administration took over in response to their (critics') poor management and lack of concern previously. So I have supported the new plan and have given the new leaders (director Frederick and chairman Gaffney) the benefit of the doubt.

Given that the community has decided to expand the water supply (Ragged Mountain), and that dredging of South Rivanna would be a maintenance activity, I support the current plan. Problem is, in 2007, the new leadership changed their minds about maintenance dredging. So things need to be re-evaluated according to influential people. They're not questioning whether the 2002 drought was artificial.

I still support the new leadership...that's how badly previous leaders (Rich Collins, Cole Hendrix, Francis Fife, Jack Marshall, etc.) have let down the community. The media have also suffered a loss of credibility by passing on statements of politicians without analysis or fact-checking. So The Hook's current campaign is less effective because of editor Hawes Spencer's many years of non-journalism. Spencer only began covering the water issue under pressure by certain people, ex-politicians and ex-officials whose records he omits and ignores.

The approved plan needs to re-evaluated by credible people without hidden agendas.

3/11/2009 9:30 PM  

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