RWSA to continue drought warning, no need for emergency action

The Board of Directors of the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

(RWSA) has voted to continue the area’s drought warning. Executive Director Tom Frederick recommended the action because water conservation  measures have reduced demand since the RWSA moved to the second phase of its drought contingency plan.

“Since August 15th demand has dropped by 5.3% to date,” Mr. Frederick said. “Our demand in recent days has been between 9.5 and 10 [million gallons a day.]”

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The City and County has been closely following RWSA’s drought action plan by running as much water as possible through the South Fork treatment plant.  Frederick said this lessens the impact on the Observatory Hill treatment plant and ultimately helps to prevent significant storage drops at both the Ragged Mountain and Sugar Hollow reservoirs.

“We are projecting at this point in time that if there are no changes – no dramatic increases in water use – we do not expect to go to a drought emergency this year.”  He added that this will depend on if the general public can maintain its lessened water use. However, Mr. Frederick recommended the RWSA leave the drought warning in effect to prepare for the possibility of a dry winter.

“If we reach a point where we can state that with normal demand conditions for fall/winter/spring we have a 95 [percent] or higher probability of refilling our reservoirs, that would be the point in time that we could lift the drought,” he announced.

Although the RWSA has not changed its strategy in dealing with the current drought, it has slightly modified its data analysis.  Current conditions had been plotted against 2002 conditions, the last time there was a major drought.  There was a recent switch-over to measuring against 2001 conditions, as that was the driest fall and winter on record, and, as Frederick pointed out, “we can compare where we are right now against the driest fall and winter statistics.”

When the time came for public comments, Keswick resident Jim Colbaugh asked when the releases were going to start from the Beaver Creek Reservoir.

“That was part of our water supply plan that was supposed to eliminate drought and it seems like everything’s dying,” he said. “We’re still in the same stage of drought.”

Mr. Frederick responded to say that release from Beaver Creek reservoir was contingent upon the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir no longer spilling.  This would ensure that any water released from Beaver Creek could be “actually captured in the reservoir at South Fork, and that’s not the case right now – so that’s the reason we’re not releasing it.”

Mr. Colbaugh went on to ask, “So, why are we still in a drought?” prompting  Frederick to make a few clarifications as to the nature of our County’s drought procedures.  Frederick explained that RWSA’s drought management plan is based both on historic records and risk assessment, “not based on levels of a reservoir, or whether something’s spilling or not spilling.”  The logic is to give the County an ability to start conservation early if a drought ends up being severe, but also to avoid crying wolf too frequently.  Last year, a drought watch  was  initiated, but called off  after summer rains were enough to replenish the reservoirs.


In other action, the RWSA Board voted to amend an engineering services agreement with Michael Baker Jr. whose firm has been contracted  to design upgrades for water supply capacity along US 29 in Albemarle County.  The corridor north of Carrsbrook Drive is currently served by a 12-inch pipeline that runs between the North Rivanna and South Rivanna water treatment plants.

“As  we’ve looked at transmission needs, supply needs, into the future for these areas, it’s become obvious that the 12-inch pipeline along this route is very severely hydraulically limited  in its ability to move water north and south,” said Jennifer Whitaker, the RWSA’s Chief Engineer.  Her


is to build a new 24-inch pipeline to connect the two pressure zones, as well as to begin design work for future storage facilities in the area. These would be built in two phases as demand in the area continues to grow.

“Part of the problem with the current pipeline is that it runs up old 29, and as Route 29 has expanded, the pipeline is now either in the median, in the travel lane, the valves get paved over regularly. There’s just a slew of problems and when we do have a break it causes massive traffic snarls,” Whitaker said. Her team is working with County staff and property owners to find a corridor for the new pipeline.

Funding for the project will come the RWSA’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Timeline for podcast:

00:48 – Introduction from RWSA Chair Michael Gaffney and approval of minutes

01:45 – Comments from the public

08:00 – Update on the drought by Tom Frederick, RWSA Executive Director (



13:15 – RWSA Chief Engineer describes plans to upgrade water capacity along US 29 in Northern Albemarle (



22:46 – Review of stream flow policy for the water protection plan (



Kendall Singleton & Sean Tubbs