City Council reviews water usage and conservation efforts

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Charlottesville City Council has provided feedback on a draft report on water conservation efforts in the City and the County. The document is one of the outcomes of the

November 25, 2008 meeting

between the four boards with authority over the community’s water supply plan. The report was produced by the City Utilities Department and the Albemarle County Service Authority to answer concerns by City Councilors that the conservation targets were too low in the estimate made for the community’s projected water demand in 2055.

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Download the draft water conservation report

The report begins by stating that the Environmental Protection Agency says the average American household uses 100 gallons of water per capita per day. The 2008-2009 Utility Rate Report for the City says that the average Charlottesville residence uses 64 gallons per capita. The report continues to say that the average per capita use in the County is 56 gallons per capita per day.

Dede Smith of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said that she was concerned that the residential numbers cited in the report for current water usage are much lower than the ones used by Gannett Fleming in its May 2004 demand analysis  to identify the targeted safe yield for the urban water supply in 2055 of 18.7 million gallons per day (MGD).

Download the May 2004 Demand Analysis

“For the City they used 108.5 gallons per capita, per day…  and for the County they used 93 [gallons per capita per day],” Smith said. Smith implied, as a result of her calculations, that dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would provide enough additional capacity and said the dredging feasibility study is required.

Mayor Norris asked Judy Mueller, the City’s Director of Public Works, to address Smith’s concerns. Mueller said she needed to check the numbers again and would come back to Council with a definitive answer.

In a phone interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Liz Palmer of the ACSA Board of Directors (Samuel Miller) said that Smith was comparing apples to oranges and that Gannett Fleming’s methodology is sound.

“The demand analysis number for the City [used by Gannett Fleming] is an aggregate number which includes all the water usage in Charlottesville,” said Palmer. That incorporates hospitals, restaurants, and other water intensive businesses such as the bottling companies that manufacture soft drinks.  Smith was comparing this data to the City’s average water usage rates, cited in in the water conservation report, that are exclusively residential.


The report also contains a list of all the various efforts underway by the City and County to reduce water consumption further. For instance, Mueller said 61% of all water used in households is for non-potable uses such as to fill toilet and bathing. To bring that number down, the City and the ACSA have handed out around 14,000 free water conservation kits to water customers. Mueller listed several programs that the City and the ACSA are currently offering or plan to offer. There’s also a table that compares City and County efforts with those being implemented by other localities in Virginia. Mueller also said next year the City would evaluate the potential for an “inverted block rate structure.”

“That would charge people more for the more water that they use,” Mueller said. Such a rate would give incentives for people to conserve to lower their rates.


David Brown

asked Mueller to talk more about the various “gray water” initiatives suggested in the report, such as rainwater harvesting. The report claims the City will conduct a Gray Water Reuse Report. City Utilities Director Lauren Hildebrand said that it is important to remember that “gray water” refers to using the effluent that has been through the wastewater treatment plant.

“Unfortunately, the Department of Health has come a long way in the state of Virginia as far specifying how we can reuse gray water but [the concept] is still in its infancy,” Hildebrand said.

Brown said he would like to study whether the City should lobby the General Assembly to amend regulations to be more flexible. He also said that he would like other organizations in the community to take a look at the report to see if there is anything that was missed.

The report concludes with a series of conservation ordinances that other communities have enacted. These include one to enable residential and commercial water audits, rebates for front-loading washing machines, alternate day watering schedules, and requiring homeowners and businesses to plant drought-tolerant landscapes. Council directed Mueller to bring expanded versions of some of these ordinances for their consideration in the future.


Dave Norris

said he wanted the report to tell Council how the Gannett Fleming demand analysis would be affected by the various initiatives. Mueller said that information would be hard to come by.

“We can’t find data on that,” she said. “We weren’t able to find good hard data to give you.” After Brown offered an example of one way to calculate savings for one particular program, Mueller said that she would be happy to follow up. Norris said he wasn’t asking City staff to take a stand on the water supply, but that as an elected official he needed the information to make a political decision.