RSWA Making “Doomsday” Plan

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is working on a “doomsday” plan for what to do if and when our water supply runs out, says Carlos Santos in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It involves a variety of methods of making water available, including pumping water up from the bottom of the reservoir to the higher-up intake pipes, drilling wells, and extracting water from Chris Greene Lake. Says the RWSA director, “the three primary focuses for water will be the health and safety of the citizens, fire protection, and keeping hospitals and emergency services open.” What does everybody on think we should do come doomsday? Where will we get water from? How will we function?

30 thoughts on “RSWA Making “Doomsday” Plan”

  1. Where will we get water from?

    Like every other “doomsday” scenario (remember Y2K?), private citizens will stockpile the commodity (water), and stores will offer it for sale at ridiculous prices.

    Regarding the RSWA’s plan, I don’t know which of the options they’re exploring seems most feasible, but all are interesting.

  2. I have an odd outlook on the likely scenario come “doomsday,” having recently read Josť Saramago’s “Blindness.” describes it as such:

    In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he “were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.” A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor’s office. Within a day the man’s wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum–guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author Josť Saramago’s gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative’s building tension, and to the reader’s involvement.

    This Nobel Prize-winning book is mostly about how society copes (or doesn’t) when everybody is in drastically reduced circumstances. Saramago’s selection of blindness is interesting, but the book could just as easily have been about a lack of food, or sun, or water, or any basic necessity. I’d certainly like to hope that we would handle a lack of water better than Saramago’s world, but who knows?

  3. If "Doomsday" never comes, and the area gets just ONE soaking rain in the next few weeks, my prediction is that people will throw the conservation efforts immediately out the window and go hog wild with the water (over)use again.

  4. I gotta say, this new millenium sure doesn’t have much going for it. No water, stock market sucks, 9/11, anthrax, west nile, Al Qeuda, Iraq, another Bush as president.

    Gimme back the high times of the late 90’s. At least Whitewater was entertaining.


  5. You forgot to mention the totally f*cked up state budget situation.

    Yeah, who needs that car tax money anyway! Thanks, Jim Gilmore!

  6. Not sure about the city…but I don’t feel weird about going to Sam’s Club this afternoon and buying up several (maybe five 24-pack) cases of bottled water. It’s just good precaution, and I don’t think I want to drink the tap water in a few months when they dredge it from the depths of the reservior.

  7. It seems odd, but a drive yesterday through Forest Lakes was interesting. The lake I drove by seemed to be completely full. Of course, this can’t solve our water issues, but it did seem odd that there was so much water in there.

    Where is it coming from?

  8. Oh yeah, I heard that they’re not hiring any more judges anywhere in the state, if you dont know, judges are old, and they retire quite often.

    So if you had your heart set on some litigation this fall, tough luck, it’ll be awhile.

  9. I put it there, I admit it, I’m sorry, I stole all your water and put it in forest lakes so rich people can have a pretty view out of their mcmansions. I’m sorry, please have mercy on me.

  10. it’s funny–i sure don’t think of Forest Lakes when I think of "rich people" and "McMansions."

    Guess it’s all in your perspective.

  11. If we ever get into intergalactic conflict, the aliens would say "do XY and Z or we’ll block all sunlight to the planet, have a nice day". Or "stop fighting with that other country or we’ll block sunlight everywhere within your borders". Or "I want my MTV".

  12. From the Richmond Times:

    "Water demand for the area is currently at about 10.4 million gallons a day, down several million gallons from its average use because of mandatory water restrictions."

    A DAY? 10.4 million gallons? A DAY?

    Well lets all do some math kids. A 1/2 ton pickup can tow about 500 gallons of water. The national gaurd trucks water around in 1200 gallon trucks. The biggest fire trucks and air tankers hold 2000-3000 gallons of water. I guess we could fill gasoline tractor trailer rigs with water, but they only carry 7000 gallons.

    Ok, So the results:

    20,800 pickup trucks


    8,667 national gaurd trucks


    4,160 fire trucks


    1,485 gasoline tanker trucks

    EVERY DAY. Thats a tanker truck pulling up to the resevoir and completely emptying 7000 gallons of water every minute of every hour of every day.

    There are more dependancies, the number of trucks required to truck in diesel for the first 1485 trucks every day for example.

    Notice that engineers didnt mention "trucks" as some emergency plan. Its a non trivial task. We reserve using trucks for good stuff like big screen tv’s and gasoline and tele-tubby plush dolls. You know, the important petrolium based stuff.

  13. Thanks for the insightful answer, however that’s not where I was headed with the question. I was simply curious as to why the levels seemed high in their lakes. Some untapped undergrpund source? No one implied that anyone was stealing water.

  14. They may well be spring fed and the springs haven’t dried up…yet. Much of the water in our reservoirs comes from ground water. It’s not just surface water.

  15. We can take a lesson from other cities/towns that have run completely out of water. Hasn’t Orange–or some such town north of us–had their river run completely dry?

    Doubtless they are muddling through with chemical toilets and paper plates. Tank trucks accompany the fire engines presumably. Easy enough for a couple of weeks. But month after month with no showers? No laundry?

    I already called my Mom in Pennsylvania and told her I might have to move back in with her (she was not enthusiastic). That is the most likely result: people will simply leave central Va.

  16. I drove through orange last week. I saw a LOT of brown dirt fields. They clearly haven’t bothered planting anything all year long.

    We could probably get some tips from them, but alas, I fear we’re in some kind of feud with dem folk, we couldn’t go talk to them… naw…

  17. Typically, no one considers railroads. Charlottesville is a crossroads between two mainlines–one running east-west and the other north-south. CSX runs about 8 to 10 empty coal freights a day between Tidewater and West Virginia, plus a handful of grain trains and a local. Norfolk Southern runs about 15 to 20 Northeast-Atlanta freights daily. Amtrak also operates on both lines.

    Some facts: per ton hauled, rail freight is three times as fuel efficient as the most efficient truck and it is many times more efficient in terms of labor (two people running one train of 100-150 cars, each car with about twice the capacity of a highway semi-trailer, vs. one person running one load. A railroad tank car can carry 30,000 gallons. One hundred of those is three million gallons.

    Charlottesville uses, then, about four trainloads of water a day.

    We can easily accommodate the additional trains on the underutilized rail lines passing through Cville.

    Just a thought. Anybody making arrangements? Anybody ever even think of this?

  18. <i>I drove through orange last week. I saw a LOT of brown dirt fields. They clearly haven’t bothered planting anything all year long.</i>

    Had you driven through the week before, you would have seen mile after mile of dried-up corn stalks and yellowing bean plants. Most farmers were turning their fields under just last week.

  19. Good thinking for a short term fix. We would face the problem of where to dump four trainloads of water per day? Maybe we could pump it all uphill into the reservoir, or improvise a connection with city water mains with fire hoses.

    However, chartering endless strings of railroad tankers is not very economical. A pipeline from the James River is the likely long term solution. Not that thirty miles of pipe is cheap, but it is cheaper than paying for diesel fuel to import water–or abandoning Charlottesville.

    The long term solution is pipes. And I regret to say, more dams. You do raise an interesting point to consider for a short term solution, though–maybe to get us past a dry February and into Spring rains.

  20. There’s a lot of talk here about how residents will be affected by a worst-case drought scenario, but I haven’t heard anyone mention the potentially dramatic economic effect on the area as a whole, not just on the residents themselves. For example, someone on another thread suggested that UVa simply cancel the rest of its football season (and presumably, by extension, not even have a basketball season) — it will never happen, because doing so would cost this area thousands of dollars in tourism. If people can’t use the bathroom at Monticello, how many fewer visitors will that translate into — and how many local merchants, already hit by two years of recession, won’t be able to hang in there? Who wants to have dinner at OXO on paper plates? And will residents take to spending their weekends (and money) out of town in places that offer better creature comforts? The long-term financial impact of this drought could last for years.

  21. It seems extremely unlikely that they would simply dump all this expensive water into the existing distribution system. I would hope they would make it less convenient to get fresh water so as to make people more stingey with it. Perhaps have many distribution points around town and enforce a limit, say 5-10 gallons per person per trip or even per day. The number isn’t important here, just the idea. That would certainly make the water usage go down while still providing enough for people to live and maybe even wash up every day in a basin as opposed to a wasteful shower.

    We could ship in tanker trailers on trains and have them driven to the various points around town. Volunteers could bring water to the elderly and diabled via a meals-on-wheels approach … water wheels ? ;-)

    Unfortunately, police at each point would probably be needed to help keep people from starting trouble in line.

    Just a thought


  22. A railroad tank car can carry 30,000 gallons.

    Thank you for figuring that out. I’d done the homework to discover that trailers generally carry 6,000 gallons, but I couldn’t find out how many gallons that a railroad tank car carries — I’d been estimating 3x as much, or 18,000 gallons when trying to figure out how many trains it would take to keep Charlottesville at 20%, or ~2MM gallons per day. Knowing that I was off so significantly is a great relief. :)

    Of course, what we still don’t know is:
    1. Where would the water come from and, by extension, how long would the trip be?
    2. What sort of costs are affiliated with the constant use of a train or two and the transfer of water in and out of that train?
    3. Has this been done before elsewhere in the U.S.? How did they handle it?

  23. i’m surprised no one has hit upon the real truth going on here…there is NO water shortage, just a well orchestrated conspiracy to halt all future growth in albermarle county – and possibly even cut down on the current population as folks move away looking for wetter pastures. it may seem extreme, but think about the real water shortage possibilities if we don’t stop all growth in the county immediately! as soon as some rock solid measures are in place, the water will get turned back on.

  24. I hope you’re joking but if you’re not:

    There is no "well orchestrated conspiracy". It is probable that reservoir capacity hasn’t been increased partly because of fears that availability of water would encourage development. The county does restrict access to the water and sewer lines serving Crozet and Glenmore in order to restrict development on 250.

    I’d like to know what "rock solid measures" to stop all growth in the county do you propose? A moratorium on all building permits and business licenses? That’s illegal except in an extreme case where the public health is in jeopardy. The drought may last long enough for that to happen but I hope not.

    How about a law like the one in China prohibiting people from having more than one child? Maybe population quotas for different socio-economic groups? Secession and then passports and visas? All of those "solutions" have serious legal problems and would never happen without major federal and state legislation that would probably have to include constitutional amendments.

    Or would you go with measures that drive up the cost of living, housing and doing business in Albemarle and would only effect those who can’t or won’t pay the higher costs?

  25. Obviously that is a better solution than pumping limited supplies into the water system.

    But there are downsides, How do you provide water to the hospital? How do we provide pressure on the fire hydrants? The failure of water supply must reach such important emergency services LAST.

  26. At least they tried. I assumed they hadnt bothered. Were they unable to find water? Or were they barred from using it if they could find it?

    If you dont grow it, you have to mine it. We all complain about the strip mines terraforming our beautiful state into a cratered moonscape. Well now we’re complaining about farmers taking our shower water, well…. America literally feeds the world, if we cant grow corn and grain and soybeans and such the WORLD economy will collapse. So I hope they dont think about barring them from using water if they can find it.

    Be nice to your friendly local farmer! And strip miners too. They just look dirty and mean, they’re not. They make BMWs and make electricity to run your home entertainment system.

    Yay progress! Industry! Great machines to make more machines!

  27. No no no, conspiracies can’t be proven, thats why they call them conspiracies.

    What we have here is a drought plus too much usage. I haven’t lived here long, and population has more than doubled. The population is redistributing to the south, go look it up. We have one of the highest population growth rates in the country. It isn’t necessary to orchistrate a plan to make this happen. It just sort of happened by itself. Everything must come into balance. Mathematics is a wonderful thing.

    Yes, you read that correctly, the universe is conspiring against you, along with your neighbors and friends. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    When you put bacteria in a petri dish, they grow and grow at an exponential rate, consuming all resources. Then their toxins begin to kill them off again, bringing the population down and reducing consumption.

    Doom and gloom, gotta have an enemy to be politically popular… Cold war anyone? Terrorist war? Drug war? Oil^H^H^HIraq war?

    WATER WAR!!!

    Go kevin! go kevin! its your birthday! Legislate! Save the day!

    *cabbage patches off stage left*

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