Water levels being watched closely as students return

As Wahoos flow back into Charlottesville to the University of Virginia, water is also once again flowing over the South Fork Rivanna Dam.  How long the latter will continue in the face of an influx of new users and little new rainfall is a major question on the minds of local water officials.  In one form or another, the community water supply was the dominant theme at the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s

August board meeting.  The prevalence of the county’s still-existing drought condition was acknowledged repeatedly as the Board of Directors moved through their agenda; in fact, Tom Frederick wasted no time by starting the meeting with a presentation of his findings on current water levels in the area.

Dry conditions coupled with last week’s thunderstorms have caused a spike in water levels in certain parts of the County, and according to his report, “we would expect some further improvement in reservoir levels over at least the next two to three days.”  After that short-term period, however, levels will be dependent on future weather conditions.  The upcoming weather forecast calls for dry days with little to no chance of rain.

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Frederick noted that last Tuesday, August 21st, the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir reached its lowest point since summer of 2002, a period that resonates with many as the worst drought in recent history.  Despite the rain that has occurred in the week since that low point, water storage conditions hover at levels comparable to those which existed three weeks ago – a date just prior to the drought warning declaration.  Frederick also voiced concern for the long-term water availability: even if the area soon experiences recovery by way of rain, the question of whether reservoirs will fully recover by next spring remains to be answered.

Appearing ultimately optimistic, Frederick closed his report by sharing some positive news with the Board of Directors.  He predicted that, although the County will maintain its drought warning status for the time being, the community is unlikely to reach the emergency stage.  Furthermore, the community itself is playing an active role in ensuring water conservation.  Average water demand was million gallons/day during the drought watch phase.  Since the upgrade of watch to warning, demand has averaged million gallons/day.  This represents a decrease of 7.5% in water consumption in response to the drought warning – a higher figure than the 5% reduction in water consumption anticipated by RWSA’s Drought Response and Contingency plan.

Charlottesville’ Director of Public Works, Judy Mueller, sounded a cautionary tone by reminding those present that the return of UVa students to Charlottesville will undoubtedly impact the area’s water supply.  “We have to remember that a large population of students came back this weekend….We have to be out there, constantly telling our new residents that we do have an issue, and historically September can be a very high consumption month,” said Mueller.

Mueller told the Board that these new residents deserve to be just as educated about our environmental conditions as the rest of the community is, and for that reason she called for another “public information campaign” to ensure student awareness about our, and now their, water supply.

Kendall Singleton