The Board of Directors of the
Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
has issued a Drought Watch for the area. The move is the first step called for as part of a drought action plan adopted by the RWSA last September, and is being taken now because streams that fill the area’s reservoirs are slowing at a rapid
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“Stream flows in our watershed are now 19 percent of seasonally adjusted normal levels,” said Tom Frederick, the Executive Director of the RWSA. He and his staff have been watching levels drop over the course of the spring and summer, with rainfall amounts declining. “There have been some scattered thunderstorms, but they did not bring the widespread rains that contribute significantly to increase in streamflows.”
Under a drought watch, members of the public are asked to conserve as much water as they can. The idea is to stretch the water supply for as long as possible if the area continues to be dry, and to get people planning now.
The lighter flows are not replenishing the reservoirs as water is pumped out for use by consumers in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
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As of the press conference, reservoirs are at 93 percent capacity and falling. The Ragged Mountain Reservoir is down 3.8 feet, and is holding steady because the RWSA is using the pipeline from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir as the source for the Observatory Hill water treatment plant. Sugar Hollow itself is down 1.6 feet, with one foot of that coming in the last five days, according to Frederick. He added that Sugar Hollow is now dropping at a rate of about two and half inches a day.
Frederick predicted that the South Fork Reservoir will stop spilling over sometime this week if there is no significant rainfall. The hydro-electric plant there has been turned off for several weeks because of low stream flow.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center lists our area as abnormally dry, and Frederick said the Center shows that for the fall and winter, Virginia could remain to be drier than normal. He said a good hurricane season could bring enough rain, but that can’t be guaranteed.
“We feel that actions need to be taken proactively, sometimes assuming that the worst can happen,” Frederick said. “We don’t want to induce panic or alarm, but we do want to make sure we prudently use our water supply so that if nature has continued dry conditions ahead of us, that we position ourselves in the best way that we can possibly be towards the future.”
There are no mandatory water restrictions under a Drought Watch, but City and County governments will begin asking their employees and residents to begin conserving. Shortly after the watch was declared, Albemarle County officials released a statement saying they will continue with measures implemented last year during a similar situation. Outdoor shrubs on county property will no longer will be watered, and neither will the green roof at the County Office Building on McIntire Road.
If there is not enough rain to recharge the aquifers that supply the streams that supply the reservoirs, the RWSA will consider moving to stage 2 – a drought warning. Under that stage, elected officials will be asked to consider mandatory restrictions. RWSA staff will continue monitoring levels in advance of the August 27 meeting of the RWSA board.
Scattered thunderstorms are forecast throughout this week, but Frederick said that likely won’t be enough to call off the drought watch.
“Generally, when it’s dry as it is right now, that’s not enough to significantly elevate stream flows, which is what we track when we determine how severe drought conditions.”