Another drought could be disaster

Another drought could be disaster

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) lifted its drought warning on January 2 after issuing it in August, and mandatory restrictions were promptly lifted by City Council and the county Board of Supervisors. Lawn-waterers across the Charlottesville area rejoiced. Tom Frederick, executive director of RWSA, says that he expects area reservoirs to top off before April, the start of the dry season.

Previous coverage:

Singing in the rain
Local Drought Warning lifted

Drought warning may become emergency
Water usage down 8 percent, but streams still running low

City and County declare drought warning
Restrict water use as "proactive measure"

That’s good news…for now. But what happens if, when summer rolls around as it is wont to do, we find ourselves facing the same lack of rain as last year?

“We have seen a progression in the last couple of years towards dryer years in 2006 and 2007,” says Frederick. The winter of 2001-2002 was the driest winter in 37 years. After a wetter season the next winter, rainfall in the next three years tapered off. “Our climate goes through cycles,” says Frederick. “It’s anybody’s guess as to when the pendulum will swing back again.”

Area farmers are hoping that pendulum begins to swing back pretty damn soon. A.C. “Corky” Shackelford, a cattle farmer and media coordinator for the Albemarle Farm Bureau, says the dry summer did a number on local livestock farmers, who couldn’t produce enough hay for the winter.

“Some of us carried over hay from the previous season, and a number of us are buying hay,” Shackelford says. “And I hear it’s more than doubled in price.” Other farmers were forced to sell off livestock, even as cattle prices dropped in the fall as more cattle came onto the market.

Another summer like the last would be, in his words, “disastrous” since farmers’ reserves of both feed and money are already running low.

“Our climate goes through cycles,” says Tom Frederick, RWSA’s executive director. “It’s anybody’s guess as to when the pendulum will swing back again.”

“If it came to pass, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of farms sold,” he says. “They’re using reserves now, and another year, I feel sure, would put quite a few of them under.”

City and county residents too could be in for tougher times if the coming summer is as stingy with rain as the last one. Frederick says area growth, combined with the shrinking capacity of the South Fork Reservoir due to sedimentation, spells bad news if rainfall levels stay low.

“We do anticipate that over time, if we don’t find more water storage, conditions when droughts do occur will become more severe,” he says. “We’ve got to have more storage, or managing droughts in the future will become more difficult.”

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