The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued a drought watch advisory for the middle James River basin region, which includes the Rivanna River watershed. The advisory has been issued according to the state’s drought assessment and response plan.
“Lack of rainfall, along with continued low ground water levels and stream flows, have caused drought impacts in the James River and New River basins in central and western Virginia,” Bill Hayden, spokesman for the DEQ, said in a statement.
The advisory includes Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna and Nelson counties and the city of Charlottesville.
The counties of Madison, Greene, Orange and Louisa are in different watersheds and are not under a drought watch at this time.
Factors for the advisory include rainfall amounts more than 55 percent below normal, stream flows 75 to 90 percent lower than previously recorded flows, and low levels at reservoirs in the region, according from a statement from the DEQ.
Under a drought watch, localities and regional water authorities are encouraged to take voluntary steps to conserve water. According to the state’s drought plan, the DEQ will continue to monitor the rainfall and groundwater conditions.
“The next step would be a drought warning, which means a significant drought is imminent,” Hayden said in an email. “Water conservation and contingency plans that have been prepared during a drought watch would begin to be implemented.”
There is no immediate concern for Albemarle and Charlottesville’s municipal water supply, said Thomas L. Frederick executive director, of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority.
“All of our reservoirs are full and we expect them to likely remain full through the winter,” he said.
The Ragged Mountain Reservoir is operating at a lower level because of construction of a new earthen dam. That work is expected to be completed by February 2014.
“Winter ‘droughts’ have minimal effect on our water supply because our watershed area is large by comparison to our system’s demand for water, and even under dry conditions stream flows are higher in the winter because temperatures are cooler and most vegetation is dormant,” Frederick added.
In November, just under a half inch of rain fell in Earlysville, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A total of 0.57 inches fell at Monticello.
“The current dry conditions do bear monitoring,” Frederick said. “If it remains dry throughout the winter and spring, it could make conditions challenging for us next summer.”