Reservoir Level Up

The Albemarle County Service Authority’s Water Emergency webpage reports that the water level is currently at 69.3%, a tremendous increase over the low-50s of mid-September. If that almost-70% figure sounds interesting, that’s because it’s somewhat of a magic number. The most draconian restrictions, notably on car washes, could be lifted at 70%. It’s not until a week at 85%+ that other local restrictions (the price of water, among others) could be lifted. The governor’s restrictions, however, would remain in effect. Daily water usage remains at an admirable 7-8 million gallons per day, a tremendous decrease from our summertime average of 14 mgpd. Josh Goodman has the story in today’s Cavalier Daily.

16 thoughts on “Reservoir Level Up”

  1. “Anything can happen,” she said. “We were at almost 100 percent in June of this year.”

    If this quote from the Cav Daily story tells us anything, it’s that we can’t let up too appreciably on our water conservation. I’m proud of our extended 7 mil. gallon number, and I think it’s important that we continue look to the long-term husbandry of our water supply and continue most of the restrictions (perhaps even past the 85% high-water mark…pardon the pun).

  2. Jinkster’s right: restrictions should not be lifted, only to be reimposed in two weeks or a month. And kudos also to Mayor Cox for saying in the last City Council session that it is responsible citizens, and not high water rates, that brought us down to a frugal 7 million gallons/day. Helpful suggestion: I keep a kitchen timer in my bathroom set for four minutes. That and showering only Monday, Weds. and Friday has considerably reduced water usage with virtually no hardship or sacrifice.

  3. The question is, will the water rate ever go back down? My guess is no – once they have your money they are unlikely to give it back. Consider it a permanant tax and one more item added to the growing cost of living in Albemarle.

  4. I’m pretty confident that it will go back down, at least in the city, just because it forces extremely frugal use of water, frugal to the point of being quite inconvenient. I don’t think people will put up with that for long once the water level is back in the safe zone.

  5. I think there’s a huge difference between using water and wasting it. While the current crisis has brought water use to our attention, once the crisis is passed (and it will pass, though possibly not right away), it would be ridiculous to ask citizens, especially property owners, to continue not to water their lawns, fill their swimming pools, water their plants, irrigate their gardens, powerwash their houses’ exteriors, or even wash their cars. People have significant interest and investments in their properties, and should be allowed to use whatever reasonable amounts of water they need to maintain them whenever possible.

    For that and other reasons, the current restrictions must be lifted at the earliest possible date. I’m not concerned that the governor’s restrictions (which are the only ones that affect my home) will be lifted as soon as possible, as there are no indications that the state has any motivation to keep them in place any longer than absolutely necessary. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the RSWA makes an attempt to keep some or all of them in place. The statement from the City’s director of public works that at 70% capacity there are no guarantees that car washes will re-open sends a clear signal in that regard.

    Wasting water (or any other resource, especially energy) is reprehensible, but being able to use water is a definite quality of life issue. To some, it’s important to shower daily. To some, it’s important to be able to water their plants, trees, and lawns. I’d like to give our dog a shower, believe me, but haven’t even though it would be perfectly legal to do so. If we ignore quality of life issues, we make this area less desirable to live in, which is a very, very bad thing on many different levels.

    While the current drought is meteoroligical, I believe the current water supply crisis is entirely man-made. A total lack of foresight from our elected (and several appointed) city and county leaders is entirely to blame for this crisis. This has to rise to the level of administrative negligence, if not outright incompetence. Why wasn’t the reservior dredged years ago? Why weren’t the bladders installed? Had these two simple, yet admittedly expensive tasks been seen to, we wouldn’t have had the supply problems we’ve had.

    In effect, we are paying now for a sad lack of leadership from our local governments. I wouldn’t suggest that the current supply crisis is actually manufactured, but that sure would have been a good way to get everybody’s attention and make higher rates easier to stomach, wouldn’t it?

    It amazes me to no end that several weeks ago the County gave tentative approval to the Albemarle Place project that will require massive amounts of water, then had the audacity to announce that they plan to ask the state to give them the ability to prevent new wells for yet-to-be developed property out in the county. Now THERE’S a lawsuit just waiting to happen. I doubt the governor or legislature will go for it, but suggest that the elected officials who request it should be called to task, especially in light of their tentative approval of the Albemarle Place project.

    I feel bad for the City and County water users, because it seems a near-certainty that the water rate increase is here to stay, at least in part – RSWA needs to pay for long-overdue improvements and maintenance, and they’re pretty much broke. I would hope the RSWA would issue bonds to raise the funds ASAP, because should the county attempt to help pay for any of these needs out of the general fund, they’ll have some mighty angry well-users headed to the polls, so that probably isn’t an option.

  6. Approving Albemarle Place was lunacy for several reasons; water is only one. Both Fashion Square and the shopping center north of that (whatever its name is) are boarding up storefronts. There is a glut of commercial space on Route 29. Yet Albemarle County approves a monstrous new mall at the same time they are stalling house construction and seeking authority to deny well permits?

    As to the new reservoir, Rivanna Water Authority failed to do anything despite over two decades’ warning (we had an identical drought and emergency measures in 1977). They are sitting on 1000 acres of already bought land at Buck Mountain and not damming it, ostensibly because of the EPA. Why they have in two decades made no effort whatever to deal with EPA is unclear.

    One might speculate: it may have to do with drawing salary from a cushy job with feet up on a desk watching water go through a pipe, year after year, answerable to nobody.

    I say, next election kick the incumbents off the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The new Board can appoint new management for the Rivana Water Authority. Then maybe we’ll get results.

  7. Two random points here:

    (1) I think it’s interesting that the reservior’s recent rapid rise (now say that three times) has gotten almost no media coverage — which I hope is deliberate (to prevent the possibility that if people know the levels are going back up, they’ll go back to their normal habits and erase the gain). The reservoir levels have risen more than 15% in a week — that’s big news! But the Daily Progress is still carrying articles about the drought’s effects and further measures that may be taken.

    (2) When things do return to "normal", a number of "permanent" conservation measures put in place since August (people installing low-flow toilets and shower heads and even rain barrels, and fixing leaks) will remain, and hopefully this will have a long-term positive impact on household water consumption. In addition, many people will retain their greater awareness of how much water their daily activities really use and make a conscious effort to conserve, although not as strictly as the drought conditions have necessitated. For example, I’ll still use the flow interruptor on my showerhead (turns the water off but keeps it hot while shampooing, etc.), but I will look forward to flushing the toilet more regularly.

  8. Excellent points! Have you also noticed that the photos they’ve been using are all from the reservoir’s lowest days? It’s about a foot from full now, and yesterday’s front page photo showed it at its lowest point, with no caption to point that out.

    I drive over the Earlysville Rd bridge daily, and have been somewhat frightened by the dropping level – there’s a tiny islet to the north of the bridge, which over the past couple of month had become a rather large penninsula, dry enough and exposed enough to have grass gworing on it! That’s bene gone for a week now, yet yesterday’s photo showed it in all its glory, as the shot of the bridge support the day before showed the water very low.

    I don’t know if that’s a case of poor photo management or what, but I imagine it’s misleading to folks who haven’t seen the true level lately.

  9. I notice that the ACSA has removed the Water Emergency page from their site and no longer announces the water level in the reservoirs. Could it be that they don’t want people to be complacent and go back to bad habits? Or is a more sinister motive at work – has someone figured out that the water shortage serves their radical anti-growth agenda quite well, and wants to keep the issue out of view from a public that doesn’t share that agenda? Could the drought be our own little Reichstag fire on the Rivanna, an excuse for permanent emergency decrees no one would accept otherwise? Do we need a real-life Jake Gittes to see what sort of underhanded political shenanigans the City Council is up to with the "water shortage"?

  10. Has anyone noticed that the "water emergency" page has not bee updated since Tuesday, 22 October? I’ve kind of been following the water levels, and it’s hard to follow them when the authorities can’t be bothered to provide them…


  11. If you send a blank e-mail to

    you’ll receive an autoreply with the latest figures.

    Reservoir levels for 10/25/2002

    Sugar Hollow -14.5′

    Ragged Mountain -11.4′

    South Rivanna -1.1′

    Remaining 69.7%

    Compare that to the Reservoir levels for 10/18/2002

    Sugar Hollow -13.5′

    Ragged Mountain -11.5′

    South Rivanna -2.2′

    Remaining 65.4%

    I’m wondering how the North Fork reservoir could see its level go up more than 1 foot, while the Sugar Hollow has actually DROPPED by a foot, and Ragged Mountain has remained about the same.

    I don’t know about anything sinister, but this whole thing really is beginning to smell funny, isn’t it?

  12. Don’t know much about what the county’s said, but didn’t City Council say that Phase II water restrictions wouldn’t be lifted until the reservoir is at 85% and indicate that Phase III would be implemented at 45%?

    The water guys messed up a bit by releasing projections on when we’d run out of water based upon absolutely no precipitation. Run out of water at Christmas with then-current consumption, water would last six months by halving consumption: all assuming no new water in the interim.

    I think they just have to be quiet now because they look a bit foolish in their previous announcements.

  13. The Sugar Hollow reservoir can drop while others rise because they pipe its water to fill the others. Since the mountains streams resupply Sugar Hollow a lot quicker than the others, that is the best use of the limited resources.

    What smells is the fact that our reservoirs are still so limited. What smells is the failure to increase capacity despite 25 years’ advance warning. The expensive bladders on top of the dams do not even make up for silting losses.

  14. I don’t think they look foolish – in fact, they look emminently practical. Scaring people, even with projections that are admittedly far-fetched, have the effect of both publicizing and pounding home the point that the situation has become quite critical. People trust statistics, and sometimes just the idea that the doomsday scenario is out there is what is needed to shake everyone up.

    Seriously, what news organization doesn’t love leading with that kind of sound byte? It put the situation in the news, and I think that’s invaluable.

  15. One of those times in my life when I was actually concerned for my life was when I was standing on the sugar hollow dam. That "dam" is an engineering nightmare! Anyone living in that valley is at risk of massive flash flooding at any time. Fix that thing.

    My appologies if the dam there has been redesigned since I was standing on it. Bravo, otherwise, who’s the structural engineer for that thing? I have a white glove to smack you with…

    And congratulations to the dam operator for keeping that thing limping along all these years and not killing us all. You have done a splendid job.

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