No Water by December

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, public works director Judith Mueller made the alarming statement that, should current trends continue, the reservoirs will be completely empty in 80-100 days. That’s as early as the first week in December or as late as Christmas. Reservoirs are currently at 57% and dropping. This despite the outdoor water restrictions currently in place. Proposed solutions include forcing restaurants to close on Sunday, having the city collect human waste (I swear I’m not making that up), and raising the cost of monthly water bills after 600 gallons per month by 50%. Council may declare an emergency session in a matter of days to enact new restrictions. There is still no major rainfall in the forecast. Elizabeth Nelson has the story in Tuesday’s Progress. 09/18 Update: Today’s Progress reports that car washes have been ordered to close down indefinitely, fines have been put into place, and the cost of water has risen.

33 thoughts on “No Water by December”

  1. I’d like to hear some ideas from people about what’s to be done. Running out of water, of course, would be a very, very big deal. I suspect that the city could really use some ideas. As best I can figure, there are two classes of solutions:

    1. What can we do as individuals to conserve water?
    2. What can the city do by law, policy, or promotion to conserve water?

    I’ll start by tossing in my $0.02 on #1: rain barrels. Perfect for those that want to keep their gardens, lawns and flowers watered, wash their cars. Those people that are particularly enterprising can filter and drink the water (Sound crazy? Let’s talk right around December 15th.), use it to flush toilets, wash the dog, etc.

    In addition, I’d really like to see some data on water usage from Public Works regarding who in the area is their largest customer (either by name or class of business), and what the largest usage of water is by activity.

    Finally, if anybody has a city water bill that they’d let me have a copy of, I’d really appreciate it. (My apartment building doesn’t bill for water by apartment.) I’d like to take a crack at redesigning it — I have a hunch that it’s not particularly useful for advocating conservation in any meaningful manner.

  2. I know it’s easy to take shots at UVA students (and I was one once before) but I have to wonder just how much conservation is going on in the dorms, residence halls and off-grounds housing (UVA affiliated or not). I know that flyers are posted about limiting shower usage etc, but if you don’t consider yourself to truly live in an area do you really care about the resources you are using up? That’s why people who own the house are generally considered more likely to take better care of a place than folks who are just visiting. UVA needs to take a much stricter stance with what is happening in the affiliated residences with regards to water usage than putting up a flyer. Put the clamps down! And while many area residents are getting hit every day with news about the drought and the drama associated with it I wouldn’t be surprised to find a large chunk of students fairly oblivious to the plight because they do not subscribe to the Progress, watch 29 and do no more than skim the drought headlines in the Cav Daily. UVA should take more responsibility with alerting each and every off-grounds housing student that this is a time to make some community sacrifices. Uniformed people cannot participate in conservation if they don’t know what the hell is going on.

  3. On a related topic, I believe that UVa acquires all of their water from Charlottesville. This could potentially be a great extortion tool ("Sure, build the Ivy Road garage…by the way, we’re raising your water rates by 15%."), among other things, but we’re locked into a long-term contract. I don’t recall how long, but I believe that we’re obliged to provide them with X amount of water for Y years at Z price per gallon, no ifs and or buts about it.

    I’m not trying to negate or belittle your point, BTW. UVa should definitely work to promote conservation and enact their own restrictions, if they haven’t already.

  4. Playing devil’s advocate here — how much can rain barrels really help if we never get any dang rain?

    Great question. :) I’d asked the same question of Kevin Cox many months ago, when he first talked to me about the concept, and he explained it well. Obviously, getting no rain means that you’re out of luck. But a relatively small amount of rain over an entire house’s roof leads to a none-too-shabby amount of water in the rain barrel. Somebody smarter than I can do the math, hopefully Kevin.

  5. Indirect consumption of any kind leads to squandering habits. I’ve been through droughts in California where people just took their long showers at the gym and thought they were conserving because their home consumption went down.

    I’m a renter, but naturally conservative. When the 10/10 information came out, I read it, realized I’d done that and more always, and got annoyed at my conspicuous consumption neighbors who hadn’t. [The biggest challenge to toilet training my daughter was the "when to flush" protocol — she couldn’t get why not flushing at home was a good thing, but not so good in public restrooms.]

    Now I’ve added dishpans to every sink and a 5 gallon bucket on the floor. That’s how the toilet gets flushed and the plants get watered. It’s maybe 10 minutes more a day.

    Alerting renters and indirect users takes a concerted effort on the part of anyone who supplies water to them. Lots of signs and reminders. Some business locations may need to assign actual people to monitor use by patrons.

    Mostly, it’s bothering to do it at all. Water falls from the sky. It flows freely from the tap whenever I turn it on. Because of the ease of getting it, it’s far too easy to forget all about it.

  6. Installing a cistern to catch rain water from our roof is something we’ve been seriously considering for a while – even since before the current crisis. The math is pretty impressive: an inch of rain on a 1000 square foot roof equals 600 gallons of water – probably enough to water our vegetable garden all season, wash some cars, and keep the dog from smelling too badly.

  7. Some of us–a few, very few–are conserving water on our own. It is as easy as taking fewer showers (every other day, at maximum) and less toilet flushing (if it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down).

    But there are no pats on the back for good behavior or frowns for water splurging. And that is a big problem, as other posters here have noted.

    U. Va. needs to assign a student to each and every dorm to inform–at the very least to inform–their friends about the urgent need to save water, and how to do it. The hospital needs a specific manager charged with finding water usage it can reduce. And the city of Charlottesville needs block-by-block water monitors to tell residents specifically how they can conserve, and to devise a system of pats-on-the-back for innovative conservation.

    Without organizing a network of people actually to do something, all we have is feckless hand-wringing and no result.

  8. I had a friend recently tell me how Scott Stadium runs. He was on a tour before it opened. They have cisterns under the stadium that IIRC, he said takes 4 DAYS to fill. They use the cisterns because C-ville could never supply the amount of water the stadium uses during a game. He recounted how it was only slightly amusing to watch the res. water go down beginning 4 days before Aug. 22. Amusing only because he knew where it was going. He lives out in Stoney Point and has to rely on his well so he has been conserving for quite a while.

    Is there any way we could get the stadium to use less water?

  9. Having spent an unusually large amount of time (for me) with students on the UVA campus the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that awareness of the drought is very low thereabouts. Several students said something along the lines of, "Oh yeah, there’s some banner hanging from the pedestrian bridge across Emmet," but had no idea that the drought was as severe as it is. Some were certainly better informed than others, but for the most part most of the students I talked to seemed pretty clueless. It seems to me like the school should get more on the ball with getting its students to conserve water, as they don’t seem to be getting through to them.

  10. I think the 50% surcharge on households that use more than 600 cu. ft. is going to make a big difference. We went to Lowe’s and Sears last night and ordered a new washing machine and bought a new toilet. Neither store had the front loading machines in stock and we bought the last pressure assisted low flush toilet Lowe’s had. The clerks at both stores told me that both items have been selling fast. For some landlords the $100 toilet rebate and the threat of a 50% higher water bill will make it cost effective to replace old wasteful appliances. An across the board rate increase might be more effective by encouraging more people to save money and thus water.

    I wouldn’t recommend drinking rain water unless it has been sterilized. It depends on the filter but filtering it probably won’t be enough to make it safe to drink.

  11. I’ve found two stories from the Cavalier Daily on this topic. I believe that’s all that they’ve run.

    “Impose water incentives to save U.Va. from drowning,” by Jordan Levy, dated today. Levy proposes the use of incentives for students to reduce water consumption, and makes the alarming assertion that “U.Va. uses 48,500,000 million gallons of water per month.” Presumably he doesn’t mean 48,500,000,000,000, but 48,500,000 gallons. Not that I can tell the difference — that much water is far beyond my grasp of quantity. No matter, this appears to be the only call to action by the Cavalier Daily thus far on the topic of water conservation.

    “Tapping into conservation,” by Lauren Akselrod, dated September 2nd. This is frightening. One student says that conservation isn’t realistic. Another asserts that when German flooding stopped, the water would come to Charlottesville. Yet another says that he’s simply not concerned about drought warnings. And a final student says that he doesn’t understand the problem: Virginia is right on the Atlantic Ocean. (I encourage this student, a fourth year named Kenny Smith, to head east for a couple of hours and let me know how that water tastes.)

  12. That seems like it would violate some sort of Health & Safety code. If I get a chemical in my eye at 5am, I can’t go rinse it out? Very problematic.

  13. I live in the County and called Albemarle County Service Authority to check on how much water I have been using and whether I was over the City’s 600 cubic feet usage limit.

    ACSA bills by the gallon as opposed to cubic feet. Pretty confusing when I keep hearing the 600 cubic foot limit. So … 1 cubic foot = 7.480519 gallon That works out to a bit less than 4500 gallons/month.

    The County Board is going to meet tomorrow evening to decide what restrictions (or here) they are going to impose. Call them and tell them to impose necessarily severe restrictions – 296-5843.

  14. UVA uses 48,500,000 gallons a month.

    That is somewhere near 6,500,000 cubic feet a month.

    Apparently 600 cubic feet is enough for three people to live (no production, laboratory use or really day-time occupation) for one month. So 200 cubic feet is about the one month amount (ignoring, for a second, economies of scale).

    So, UVA is consuming enough each month, on some estimation here, for 32,500 people.

    Is that a lot? A little? I can’t really tell. On the one hand, there certainly aren’t anywhere near that many people living there. However, UVA is not a residential facility only – and people are on grounds around the clock.

    That is not to say that UVA couldn’t conserve a great deal of water – I just don’t know enough about that to be able to look at that sort of a question.

    The economist in me screams "Just raise the prices". The populist in me screams "Install a water limit".

  15. why simply at UVA…why not rolling "brown outs" like with electricity in CA? pointing the finger just at UVA isn’t going to solve anything long term…nor short term for that matter.

  16. um…hospitals, by their very nature, use a lot of water. and there are some things they can do to conserve and i hope that they are. (uva and martha jefferson as well) but ultimately, there are a lot of people and a lot of cleaning and most of it absolutely necessary.

  17. All of the water meters in town were recently replaced with wireless RF based systems. You can drive around a neighborhood and read everyone’s meters if you have the proper radio from the manufacturer.

    Why is this neat? Well finding out how much water someone uses is not all that exciting, but when you dont pay your bill and they want to shut off your water, they just drive by and send a "shut the valve" signal with your unique ID number attached, and boom, your water is off.

    It seems to me that a determined eco-friendly individual with the proper equipment could shut down the entire city in a day or so. Talk about war driving :)

    It would be horribly irresponsible of me to tell you the name of the company that makes the devices, but if you go out and look at your water meter, its stamped right on it! Talk about security! The laptops the guys in the water trucks have require someone enter the customer in one at a time, so a fleet of city pickups with laptops is no match for a single person with an automated brute force approach.

  18. I’m glad I know you’d never really do something like that, Lars. It is quite frightening, though, that something like that could be done. Don’t post that on any war chat rooms, ‘kay?

  19. Does this include the hospital or is it the rest of the school and not the medical center? because if it is the hospital as well, we’d have to factor in what kind of water use a hospital requires.

    I’ve read your numbers about 600 cubic feet for 3 people in a few places lately. Seems a reasonable place to start from to try to reduce usage for all of us.

  20. Have the area golf courses been ordered to stop watering their tees and greens yet? Im told they were watering them thoroughly, at night, as recent as a week ago.

  21. (This comment relates to the water issue, but I need to preface it so bear with me). I read in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch that UVa’s enrollment is continuing to swell. I’m not sure how many students now attend UVa. but I think the question is now "how many is too many?" Colleges and universities have the ability to cap the number of students they enroll. Have we reached the point where UVa. is allowing too many students to come here? Can Charlottesville absorb and sustain the growing numbers of students who come to this community and use its resources, such as WATER, streets and parking? I’m all for giving as many students as possible an excellent education at a top school, but I think University officials are not looking at sustainability, they are look at $$.

  22. I don’t know anything about the watering, and I haven’t the slightest interest in golf, but I do have this info- A relative of mine is in charge of the course over at Farmington, and he is involved in something called the Turf Council whose purpose is to research grass and develop strains that are best for use on golf courses and other sports fields. Obviously this isn’t exactly a charity non-profit, but for people who do care about their golf course being less impactful to the environment with better grass (hardier and requiring less water?) it should be nice to know there are people trying to come up with some answers.

  23. One of the UVa athletic administrators was interviewed on WINA this morning, and allowed as how the water situation could in principle result in cancellation of home sporting events, including football games. I suppose that’s heartening–when the dreaded word “cancel” is used anywhere near the word “football,” it means people are taking things pretty seriously.

    Everyone with a UVa email address got this update today on drought/energy measures being taken at the university.

  24. People assume secrets will stay that way, this is a perfect example of security through obscurity. WHY would anyone want to shut everyone’s water off? Thats inconceivable! WHY would someone go through the expense and difficulty of obtaining the equipment? Uhhhhh I dont know, people are totally nuts. Just look at those crazy terrorists out there, WHO would kill innocent people?

    Who cares why? What matters is they CAN.

    Keeping vulnerabilities secret is akin to hiding all the landmines where "nobody will find them". That doesnt mean no one will step on one eventually.

    And to clarify, I wouldnt do this, and I dont suggest anyone else try. Note that I am not being faceitious at all, SERIOUSLY READ THIS BLATANT DISCLAIMER AND DONT MESS WITH ANYONES VALVES. OR DO ANYTHING THATS A BAD THING(TM). DONT SAY I DIDNT WARN YOU. THANK YOU. PLEASE DRIVE AROUND. HAVE A NICE DAY.

  25. It’s funny how hard it is to break habits. Several times today I have flushed the toilet unnecessarily. (Unnecessary given the circumstances; I’m not just randomly flushing it. :) Every time I’ve walked into the bathroom thinking "don’t flush the toilet, don’t flush the toilet," and nearly every time I’ve walked out thinking "Doh! I flushed it!" I figure that’s something like 18 gallons of water that I’ve wasted today alone. I’ll catch on. It’s just going to take a few more days.

  26. The following are two lead editorials from the Cavalier Daily. Some students appear to be interested and reasonably well informed.

    Frankly, I have to say that I agree with both of them. A blanket rate increase per water account seems unreasonable. The assesment in the Cav Daily is correct. A family of 4 or 5 isn’t going to have any financial incentive to conserve and large homes aren’t going to be able to come in under that usage level while still being clean and minimally sanitary.

  27. If that system is worth half of what I’m sure it cost, it should use some sort of encrypted communication or IDs that are too complex to easily brute-force so as to make what you’re talking about difficult.

Comments are closed.