On October 6, 2008, Lauren Hildebrand, the City’s Director of Utilities, briefed Council on her efforts to promote water conservation and explained various changes to the City’s water restrictions that are in place during drought warnings and emergencies. Councilor David Brown challenged the some of the amendments, which he said could have the effect of weakening the City’s ability to conserve water during dry periods.


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Hildebrand said the City is looking at many ways to reduce the amount of water that needs to be taken from the water supply managed by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. The City is looking at creating a pilot program to convince local restaurants to use low-flow spray nozzles for their dishwashers. The City will also make a series of presentations to neighborhood associations to get them to discuss ways of reducing water usage and it will hold a rain barrel workshop in October. As part of that effort, Hildebrand is looking for a corporate sponsor willing to purchase additional rain barrels.

Hildebrand also highlighted the

proposed changes to the water conservation ordinances

,

which have also been discussed by the Albemarle County Service Authority

. The goal is to make one set of rules that apply in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County during drought warnings and emergencies. The area was under a

drought warning for much of the fall of 2007

.

Councilor

Satyendra Huja

wanted to know why the ordinance would allow up to 5 gallons of water for swimming pools during the drought warning stage.  Hildebrand said this language was added to address evaporation in pools that are already filled. Mayor Norris suggested adding language to the ordinance to restrict those 5 gallons to a particular time frame. Attorney Craig Brown said the 5 gallons was really intended to allow for children’s wading pools.






Councilor David Brown


Councilor

David Brown

noted that many of the changes allowed for more water to be used during drought warnings. Hildebrand said her interpretation is that the ordinance changes are more restrictive.

“We clarify that outdoor watering is prohibited during emergency situations,” Hildebrand said. But Brown said the current ordinance prohibits watering of vegetation except for by a watering can.

“Now it has a whole new section that describes how you can [water] new plantings,” Brown said. “The way I would interpret that is that you might not want to plant a new lawn or re-sod your lawn during a drought restriction because you really wouldn’t be able to effectively water it… But now, you would be able to go ahead and seed your lawn and plant it and do whatever it took to make sure it grew.”

Hildebrand said that would only be allowed by a licensed contractor. Brown still wasn’t satisfied with the answer. Public Works Director Judy Mueller said the changes have been made because of changes made by Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert.

“Mr. Tolbert has placed some requirements on new development, and we come along, and he says you have to landscape, and we say you can landscape, but you can’t water. And what we ended up doing was having to do waivers with all of these folks.”  Mueller then said the issue was really with development in Albemarle County, and that the ordinance changes are a compromise to help protect the investments. She also said there would be erosion problems with newly graded lots if some landscaping is not done.

Councilor Brown suggested mulching would be a better answer. He said with the exception of the hotel-motel requirements, the ordinance changes would create a more lenient environment during drought warnings. Mueller said the City received a lot of complaints during the last drought warning, particularly from senior citizens who were trying to save established plantings.

Brown said he understood, but he said in light of a water supply plan that he said was “fumbling,” the City should increase restrictions. “The path that we were on is not exactly going there,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of predictions of more drought. I’m a little leery of weakening our restrictions during the warning stage….”

Mueller interrupted. “If you want to make it stricter, that’s your call. But it won’t be consistent with the County, and that’s a concern that we really have.”  The Albemarle County Service Authority has not yet adopted the ordinance changes, and Brown said they would also have an opportunity to discuss his concern. Mueller said the ACSA will meet before City Council holds it second reading on the changes.

Brown warned that if the ordinance changes pass as written, the community would find itself using more water during the next drought restriction. “We’ll be watering our lawns more. People will feel a little more able to plant shrubs and plant trees, “Brown said.

City Manager Gary O’Connell said the ordinance changes give staff a little more guidance. “We were basically winging all of this in 2007, and it sent mixed messages to people and they ended up doing what they wanted to do.”

Brown also wanted City Council to be notified any time that the Public Works Director grants an exemption.

Mayor

Dave Norris

reminded Councilors that when they

reaffirmed the water supply plan in June 2008

, they also called for a plan to create an ambitious conservation effort to reduce water consumption. He said Hildebrand’s presentation was helpful, but he directed staff to provide an update on those efforts.

Judy Mueller said the City will build more projects that harvest rainwater, including the new Charlottesville Transit Center facility on Avon Street Extended. She said the rain barrel workshop will encourage more people to use rainwater for non-potable waters.

“Our staff member who works on water conservation fields questions all the time and is trying to work individually with people who are trying to do some pilot [programs],” Mueller said. City Manager Gary O’Connell said he would arrange a presentation on the effectiveness of such programs at a future Council meeting.

The drought ordinance changes will come back for a second reading to the Council in November. There will be no Council meeting on October 20, 2008.

Sean Tubbs

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